How to Teach Your Toddler to Overcome Fear of the Dark
It can be a challenge to get a toddler to sleep in their room. Toddlerhood is a time when separation anxiety hits its peak, so being alone in a bed at night can trigger fears that weren’t a problem before.
You might start to notice your toddler becoming extra fearful of their dark room at night. From ghosts to monsters to spooky noises, a toddler’s growing imagination can play all kinds of tricks on them. Fortunately, there are a few ways that you can help your toddler feel more secure at night and get them back to their regular sleeping schedule.
- 9 Tips for Teaching Your Toddler to Overcome Fear of the Dark
- 1. Talk About It
- 2. Don’t Downplay Fears
- 3. Address Possible Causes
- 4. Make It Not-So-Scary
- 5. Keep Lights Accessible…And Make Them Fun
- 6. Offer Comfort
- 7. Consider a Room Switch
- 8. Praise Big (and Small!) Milestones
- 9. Ask the Pediatrician for Advice
- Help Your Toddler Overcome Fear of the Dark
9 Tips for Teaching Your Toddler to Overcome Fear of the Dark
Some toddlers have a more crippling fear of the dark than others that can prevent them from getting a full night’s rest. Because sleep affects behavior, health, and development, toddlers must get at least 11 to 14 hours of sleep daily, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Here’s how you can guide your child to overcome a fear of the dark that can interfere with sleep:
1. Talk About It
One of the very best things you can do for your toddler is to have regular, open discussions with them about their fears about anything, not just the dark. Although toddlers haven’t yet mastered their language skills, they often have a lot of ideas they want to express, and doing so can help them work through their fears.
If your toddler displays some fears of the dark, like crying when you turn the light off or pointing to the closet before you leave the room, try talking to them about it. You can ask your toddler what’s wrong or have them draw a picture to explain. Your interest in your toddler’s concerns can lead to open communication, making it more comfortable for them to talk to you.
You can even talk about a couple of your own fears, like spiders or flying in an airplane, to help your youngster understand that they’re not alone.
2. Don’t Downplay Fears
Show your toddler that you understand that they’re scared and why they’re afraid. The simple act of acknowledging that their fear of the dark is real can provide a sense of relief and calm. Even if you don’t necessarily share the same concern, it’s crucial to remember that toddlers have a very different imagination than we do. What seems harmless to you could be terrifying to them.
Work through your toddler’s fears with them. If your little one says that there’s a scary monster under their bed, you can take a few minutes to check it out. In doing so, you’ll show your toddler that you believe what they say, and you’re there to help them get through it.
3. Address Possible Causes
Your toddler might have experienced something scary recently that contributed to a fear of the dark. Think about recent events or changes, like changing daycares, a parent switching work shifts, or moving to a new house. These types of events can be anxiety-producing in toddlers.
Try to address the changes that could have caused a sudden fear of the dark. If you moved to a new home, for example, you might help your toddler acclimate to their room by letting them have a say in its decorations, bedding, etc. Unpack the room as soon as possible after moving to make it as “normal” as possible for extra security for your toddler.
4. Make It Not-So-Scary
Desensitizing your toddler to the dark over time could make it not so frightening. The desensitization process involves introducing your child to the dark in favorable situations to help them associate the dark with not-so-scary activities.
A few tasks you can try include:
- Turning the lights off and the night light on before playing together or reading a book with a flashlight.
- Going outside and looking at the stars and moon.
- Taking a ride in the car at night.
- Read books about the dark, like Monsters Get Scared of the Dark, Too, by Melissa Lagonegro.
5. Keep Lights Accessible…And Make Them Fun
A night light can be an excellent addition to the room of any child who has a fear of the dark. Just a bit of calming light can illuminate the room enough to make it not seem so scary. You might try a star projector that casts images onto the ceiling or walls to keep your toddler’s focus as they fall asleep.
You can also try moving your child’s bed closer to a light switch, if possible, for quick access. If your toddler does get scared in the middle of the night, they can flip the switch themselves.
6. Offer Comfort
Give your toddler a security object, like a special blanket or stuffed animal, that they can cuddle to go to sleep and whenever they feel scared. You might also give them one of your t-shirts that smells like you to offer a little extra comfort.
Before you leave your child’s room, make it clear to your toddler that you care about how they feel and that you’re only a short distance away if they get scared. You might consider using a monitor in your toddler’s room to help you hear if they wake up, so you can comfort them during the night if necessary.
7. Consider a Room Switch
Is your toddler’s room a distance away from a bathroom or your bedroom? The range could be what’s producing anxiety about the dark, especially if your toddler makes frequent trips to the bathroom in a hallway that turns scary at night.
Moving your child into a bedroom that’s closer to the bathroom or your room could help calm their fears. If that’s not possible, try keeping a light on in the hallway, like a night light that illuminates the floor well.
8. Praise Big (and Small!) Milestones
Every milestone your child makes that gets them one step closer to being less fearful of the dark is a significant milestone! Be sure to acknowledge every move that shows how much your toddler has progressed.
For example, spending ten minutes instead of five minutes in the bedroom alone without calling for you is progress. Let your toddler know how proud you are: Wow, you made it ten minutes – great job! Now, cuddle your elephant, close your eyes, and let’s see if you can fall asleep. I’ll be right here in the morning.
A small reward might be acceptable when your toddler reaches larger milestones, like spending a full night in their bed without getting fearful.
9. Ask the Pediatrician for Advice
If your child’s fear hasn’t subsided after giving it your best shot, it could be a good idea to voice your concerns with your child’s pediatrician. In some cases, an underlying issue that warrants intervention could be the cause. In milder cases, just getting some fresh ideas from a professional could ease your worries and inspire a few new ways to calm your toddler’s anxieties.
Help Your Toddler Overcome Fear of the Dark
Toddlers need to work through a lot of emotions as they learn about the world around them. Sometimes, these emotions get the best of them and produce intense fears of what they aren’t used to.
Usually, working through your toddler’s fear of the dark with them through acknowledgment and understanding does the trick. Try to stay calm and patient; your little one looks to you for security and gentleness to help them feel more at ease and lead you both to more restful nights.