Thank you to Jennifer from Mom Tricks for writing this great post on helping kids with nighttime fears!
I was never afraid of the dark when I was a kid.
But my son, Alex, started to become deathly afraid of sleeping by himself shortly before his 3rd birthday. I lost track of how many times we woke up to find him standing at the side of the bed, too afraid to stay in his own bedroom through the night.
It was frustrating to deal with, especially because we thought the late-night diaper changes and other fun escapades were long over with! But, we did manage to deal with it, and before long, we had him mostly sleeping in his ownbed again through the night.
I’ll share with you some of my advice and methods we used to help him get over his fears of the dark. Hopefully, if you’re in the same boat, you’ll find them helpful!
It’s Probably Just a Phase
Many kids are only afraid of the dark for a short while. While it can be a very trying time for parents, they can take solace in knowing that it won’t go on forever.
A big reason why kids become afraid of the dark is because of their overactive imaginations. I bet you remember being a kid, and having a mind filled with fantasies of dragons and princesses (or superheros) all day.
It’s not hard to imagine the possibility of a goblin under the bed, or hiding in the closet, when you’re in bed in the dark!
And now, here are my 7 tips to helping kids who are scared of the dark.
1. Find Out What’s Causing the Fear & Remove It
The first thing I’d suggest is to figure out exactly what’s causing them to be afraid of the dark at night. There are a number of possible things that could disturb and frighten a child at night. Even something as simple as passing-by car headlights flashing into the room can be pretty scary. It could also be something as simple and unobvious as light coming from inside the house from other people who are still awake.
Things that cast shadows in the room are also easy to turn into creeping monsters in the night. Be sure to get rid of anything like that in the room. So, put up better blinds to eliminate lights from outside, get rid of hanging objects or anything else that casts shadows, block lights from outside their bedroom, and get rid of anything else they tell you causes them to be scared at night.
2. Avoid Scary & Energizing TV and Movies
On that note, the TV and movies young children are subjected to during the day can be very influential. For that reason, it’s best to watch only calm, soothing shows. And don’t think that just because it’s a Disney movie, it’s good and calming to a child. Have you ever watched some of them? Some scenes are downright frightening!
Even better, having the TV off completely for an hour or two before bedtime is ideal. There’s so much excitement during the day, and helping them wind down is a good idea.
3. Establish a Calm Bedtime Routine
I believe it’s very important to come up with a consistent, relaxing bedtime routine. For this, you can do whatever works best for you.
Some ideas could be having a nice, calming bubble bath, bedtime stories, singing lullabies, or anything else that might work for you. Just being there in the room with them until they fall asleep really helps.
It really helps to make the pre-bedtime ritual a calm and peaceful one. It goes a long way toward calming down an active imagination and get them more geared to being restful and peaceful.
4. Get Rid of the Pitch Black
A nightlight can be a huge help in the fight against nighttime fears. A pitch black room is a lot scarier than one illuminated by the faint glow of a nightlight.
They’re pretty inexpensive, too: you can find them for just a few dollars at Walmart or Target. Aside from that, leaving them a small flashlight that they can turn off and on as they need could help alleviate fears.
Leaving the door slightly ajar is also an idea. Put yourself in the place of a small child, completely sealed off from the rest of the house, and contained in a dark room. If the door is open slightly, they won’t feel quite as isolated.
5. Use Your Baby Monitor As Walkie Talkies & Play Music or Sounds
Do you still have your baby monitor around? If it’s a two-way monitor, you could leave it in the room for them, so they have the reassurance that you’re always there on the other end if they need you. The problem with this is that the privilege can easily be abused, especially at first.
Something that plays soothing music, or even just a white noise machine, could be a huge help. There’s something eerie about dead silence, and the sound of calming music or even just white noise can help. What I found that worked well was just running our nursery humidifier during the nights, which gave off a soothing white noise sound.
6. Enlist The Help of a Teddy Guard
I really like the idea of establishing a “guard” to protect them. By that, I mean a big teddy to sit by the door and stop any monsters from getting into the room at night. This could really be any plush animal, or you could even tell them that the family dog will be around to help protect them. It sounds silly, but not to a kid!
7. Give Them Reassurance
Reassure them that everything is fine and there are no monsters under the bed. Turn on the lights before bed, and look in the closets and everywhere else there could possibly be a monster hiding.
You can even go all the way and actually look under the bed together with a flashlight to prove there’s nothing there.
8. Let Them Share The Bed (Or Go To Theirs)
You can also let them share the bed with you, but this is somewhat of a controversial subject. I, personally, think it’s fine to do it once or twice, but making a habit of it is counterproductive.
Of course, this is up to you and I’m not here to make judgment
calls on your parenting style! If it works for you, then great!
The idea is to help build their confidence and reassure them that nothing bad is going to happen during the night, and I personally feel as though letting them sleep in your bedroom isn’t solving the real issue at hand.
An alternative that I think works much better is to go to their bedroom instead. This way, you’re not reinforcing the idea that there’s something wrong in their bedroom, too. You could stay until they fall back asleep, assuming they do fall asleep quickly.
Or, you could do what I do, and come check on them every 5 minutes. When you start to do that, you can slowly space it out so that it becomes 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, then 20 minutes. They’ll probably be asleep before you can even come and check on them again.
Be Patient: It’s Temporary
The most important thing to remember is to be patient, because this is just a temporary phase that will be over before you know it. I know how frustrating it can be, but think back to the nights you spent dealing with them when they were crying infants, along with the late-night feedings and diaper changes. Those felt like they would never end too, but they did. And so will this.
As long as you keep calm and try your best to build their confidence and eliminate the reasons why they get agitated and scared at night, there’s a good chance this will all be over before you know it.