Have you noticed your older toddler starting to become afraid of the dark? Around two years old, a toddler’s imagination begins to develop. This is an amazing time, but it also means that they realise they can get hurt and that there are things in the world that can hurt them – they may have watched a movie that scares them, or you’ve read a book together that leaves them feeling a bit unsettled. It doesn’t have to be scary, we have seen Peter Rabbit, PJ Masks and even Peppa Pig give nightmares to children. Whilst, as an adult, you know that the dark isn’t inherently dangerous because of experiences you’ve had in the past, your toddler has no such experience to draw on.
It’s really important that if your toddler begins to say or show they are afraid of the dark that you don’t just brush it off – instead, ask some questions. It lets them know you are taking their fears seriously, which is reassuring for them, and it also helps you to work out what it is that they are frightened of and how you could address it.
For example, if they say that they can see things moving around their room, it could be headlights from cars driving past, or curtains blowing in the breeze. In that situation, you can get some better blackout blinds to eliminate that kind of thing happening and you can provide an effective solution. It can be a good idea to lay in/next to their cot or bed in the dark to see what they can see and if there is anything which could be scary. Alternatively, you could give them a night light or something like a Go Glow tilt torch to check out any shadows or a night light – but stay away from a blue light because this stimulates cortisol production, which is not what we need for a peaceful night’s sleep!
Be a little cautious that you don’t exacerbate the situation by using ‘Monster Spray’ etc as this suggests there are monsters they need to worry about. It is fine to reassure them that there are no monsters in the cupboard/under the bed but don’t suggest that you need to check because they may be there!
For a lot of toddlers, bedtime is also the only time they’re exposed to darkness and really the only part of the day when they are alone – as opposed to the day, when they are usually supervised by you or another care giver – so you can see how these two things could combine to make for an anxiety-ridden time.
To ease some of that apprehension, a good – and fun – idea is to spend some time together in the dark. You could try reading books under a blanket with a dim torch, hide and seek with the lights out or making some shadow puppets. While this isn’t likely to be an overnight fix, after your little one’s fears have been addressed and they’ve learned that the darkness is less frightening and more fun, you’ll start seeing more consolidated sleep and less visits in the middle of the night.
If you are still struggling with your little one’s sleep do get in touch, we would love to help!