What to do if your toddler is scared of the dark

If your child’s afraid of the dark, getting into bed and going to sleep can be nightmarish. Here’s how to tackle those fears gently and successfully...

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Is your toddler scared of the dark and imagines monsters are in it? “At this age your toddler’s imagination is developing fast, so it’s normal for him to be imagining all sorts of things,” explains Angela Davy, Boots Parenting Club health visitor.

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Should you acknowledge the imaginary monsters or ignore them?

When it comes to handling your toddler’s fear, not all experts agree on the same approach. 

Some experts believe you shouldn’t acknowledge the monster, and that saying things like, “Don’t worry, Daddy scared him away before you got into bed” won’t help.

However, others feel not acknowledging it could also cause problems. “A toddler sees monsters on television and in books, to deny that they exist is confusing to him,” says health visitor Angela. Plus, you don’t want to belittle his fear, as to him it’s a big deal.

Angela recommends taking the middle line – comforting your toddler, while being vague about the existence of scary creatures. “Reassure him by saying you don’t think there are any monsters in his room and that you’ll protect him if they do appear, no matter what,” she says. Put a teddy on guard by his bed, too, so he knows there’s always someone on the lookout for him when he’s sleeping and, if it helps, use a night-light.

However, child psychologist Lyn Fry’s approach is closer to the first school of thought…

“Bedtimes are really tough as Adam hates being left alone in the dark. He tells us he’s scared of monsters and ghosts, so we do the whole checking under the bed and in the cupboards before tucking him up, but if he wakes in the night he’s convinced they’re there and will come running into our room,” explains Carolyn, mum to Adam, nearly 3, and Jamie, 6 months.

“We’ve tried using a night-light, as well as leaving the landing light on with the door open, and he still hates it. We’ve even gone as far as leaving his main bedroom light on while he’s falling asleep, but none of it has stopped him from being frightened,” saiys Carolyn.

Child psychologist Lyn advises, “It’s probably better to not check under the bed each night for monsters as this reinforces the idea that they could be there. As you’ve already started doing this, however, do it one last time, saying firmly, ‘There are no monsters,’ and then don’t do it again.

“To help him get over his fear, try sitting on the stairs together in a dim light. Show him you’re not scared and give him lots of reassurance, and praise him if he manages to do it. Once he can tolerate this for five minutes you can move on to sitting in a dark room together, and gradually build this up until he’s more comfortable with it.”

Six steps to beat your toddler’s fear of the dark

  1. Reassure your toddler there’s nothing under his bed and that you’re close by.
  2. Give him a night-light.
  3. Make up stories about nice things that happen in the dark.
  4. Give him control over his fears – a spray bottle of ‘magic’ water or a magic wand he can wave to keep imaginary monsters away.
  5. Avoid dismissing your child’s fears. Tell him you felt scared when you were little but got over it.
  6. Don’t use bed as a punishment for being naughty, reinforcing the idea it’s an unpleasant place.

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