When you're the parent of a toddler it can feel like you move from one sleep problem to the next. As soon as you resolve one issue, such as getting your little one to fall asleep by himself or to sleep through the night, another concern suddenly arises. And one of the most common ones is fear of the dark.
“My niece, who is 3 years old, has developed a fear of the dark in the last week!” says a Circle of Moms member named Felicia. Similarly, Kayla M.’s 2½-year-old son has suddenly become afraid of monsters at night. “I make sure he watches nothing scary. . . .I have not changed his night time routine — he has his snack, watches a little TV, brushes his teeth, we read a book, he gets his flashlights and usually he goes to sleep. But the last couple of days he’s been crying and very scared,” she shares.
For moms like Kayla and Felicia, who are seeking suggestions on how to soothe their children's fear of the dark, Circle of Moms members offer these five tips.
1. Find Out What's Really Scaring Her
Often toddlers become scared of the dark when their imaginations run wild, points out Keri R. She suggests moms first ask what their toddlers can tell them about why they are afraid. “Is [there] something in the room scaring them that can be removed?" she asks.
If the fear is about something imaginary, then check with your child before lights out to reassure her that there’s nothing lurking in the dark, says Keri.
When Holly M.'s son suddenly became afraid of the dark nine months ago, she began reassuring him that his bedroom was safe by closing closet doors and adding a night light.
If it's night terrors, Ashly suggests discussing them with your doctor. Her pediatrician suggested eating crackers or a similarly small snack before bed to help calm her child's tummy.
2. Banish Bad Monsters
Some children’s fear of the dark stem from concerns that there are monsters skulking about. If that's the case with your little one, try distinguishing between friendly and scary monsters. Holly M.'s son grew to love the idea of monsters after she read and reread him a book about friendly monsters.
Stephanie recommends The Bedtime Rhyme by Walter Wangerin Jr. Charmamine C. recommends The Hairy-Scary Monster. And Jacqui says the movie Monsters, Inc. is very effective at curing the fear of scary monsters in the bedroom.
Another approach is to take action against imaginary monsters. Tabatha P. makes a show of checking for monsters inside the closets, under the bed, and behind the door. If her son says he sees one, she scares it away by doing a silly dance and telling the monster to leave. It may sound goofy, but growling like a dinosaur and scaring the monsters away works, reports Ashly.
Kimberly created a “monster box” out of shoe box to collect and trap monsters at night so that they can’t get out at night.
And moms like Michelle W. and Kris use “monster repellant,” putting water and a bit of lavender oil in a spray bottle that their children can spray under beds, in the closet and across window sills so that monsters can’t enter the room. “Not only did they feel better about sleeping in the dark in their own rooms, but the lavender is also a very calming, soothing scent before bed — and it's very safe to use around kids and pets,” shares Kris.
3. Provide a "Guard"
When her daughter wouldn’t believe that monsters aren’t real, Stacey J. placed a big teddy bear in the doorway of her room as a “guard” who would keep out any monsters. Another member (she goes by who the screen name "S~") used a plush lion to reassure her daughter. As she explains, “[My daughter] said very seriously to me that the monsters weren't really real, so I responded with the lion, [who] is just like them (not really real). . . perfect to chase away the 'not really real' monsters. It seemed to satisfy her."
Other moms, including Holly M., tell their kids that the family dog will "protect" them from monsters. “He has slept soundly ever since,” Holly says.
4. Show that Being in the Dark Can Be Fun
Charmamine C. created games that involve playing in the dark so that her daughter could get used to having fun with the lights out. She took out an old bed sheet and threw it over their heads. Additionally, she and her daughter started taking walks at sunset so that her daughter could see the day get gradually darker.
5. Add Light
Sometimes all that’s needed is a little more light in the room. Lisa B. purchased fun night lights, including hanging stars and a monkey lamp and hasn’t experienced any major sleep problems since. Becky’s daughter didn’t like traditional night lights but loved having a string of Christmas lights wrapped around her window frame. Even a flashlight can do the trick, says a member named Rose.
Whichever remedy you choose to help calm your toddler’s fear of the dark, “always let him know Mommy and Daddy would never let anything hurt him,” Tabatha advises.
After all, “moms and dads are the best cure” for most ailments, says Lisa B., also noting that it’s just a matter of time before your child’s sleep issues improve. “And really, how long do we get to be the number ones that make everything better?”
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