Is your toddler telling you they are scared of the dark?? This usually begins at the age of two when memory increases and so does their imagination. With all the bumps and bruises that come with being a toddler they have now learned that there are things that can hurt them.
Now let’s add in things they have seen from books or tv that are a little spooky or have scary characters in it, no matter how “cute” the monster looks they are still a monster. As adults we know there isn’t anything to be afraid of when it’s dark, but toddlers don’t have anything that tells them otherwise.
What NOT to do: Ignore it
It’s tough you want to have some empathy with your child but then you also don’t want to make things worse by acknowledging it. I don’t agree with calling it “Monster Spray,” checking the closet for monsters or saying that the teddy bear they sleep with will protect them. This is because there aren’t any monsters to spray, check for or protect against. They simply aren’t real. We know this… they don’t, so doing those things tells them monsters are real, they just aren’t in your closet at the moment.
What TO do: Have some compassion
Like I said, you don’t want to just dismiss their feelings so when they express a concern about the dark ask them why they feel this way. This shows them you care but also gives you more information into what is causing this fear; It may not be as simple as “it’s dark”. Maybe something is moving in their room and you notice it’s a shadow from the hall light or even car headlights driving by outside. That you can explain and fix with some blackout curtains or sometimes a nightlight*. It could be that they hear something and it’s actually you moving in your bedroom so you may consider being quieter while they are drifting to sleep or turn up the sound machine.
(*If you are going to use a nightlight, make sure it’s a warm color. Blue/white/green lights may look nice, but they stimulate cortisol productions which is the LAST thing we want at bedtime.)
I get it, not all toddlers can reason and explain their feelings that well. Some kids answer “doggie” to the question “what do you want to do today?” and you have to do some more digging with that simple response. This nighttime situation may get you’re the same response but at least you are showing compassion which goes a long way and doesn’t just dismiss their feelings.
You also need to remember this is the ONLY time of the day they are left alone. They spend their day playing with friends, spending time with you, or at school where they are supervised. Then let’s also add darkness to this experience you can see how the anxiety can start to build.
To calm those nerves, you can start doing more things in the dark! Read a book with a dim light under the covers, hide and seek with the lights out (just clear the toys off the floor first!), shadow puppets can be fun too! Google some more ideas and give your toddlers a couple options and they can choose!
The last little tip to leave you with is that as bedtime gets closer start to dim the lights. This can help ease them into the dark setting and also helps stimulate their melatonin production which will help them get to sleep easier.
This isn’t an overnight fix, that is for sure. Most things with toddlers aren’t! But a couple of tweaks and difference in approach can help settling their mind and begin to teach them there isn’t anything to be afraid of when the lights go off.