Around the age of 2.5 to 3 years, your child is likely to become scared of the dark and be waking at night because of this. Or maybe they have become scared of the dark and are refusing to go to bed at a normal bedtime and have become the expert of bedtime delay? These fears are a normal and expected part of a child’s development. They are an expert at the imagination and as they read books and watch TV or movies this imagination can move into overdrive.
I remember my sister telling me my niece was obsessed by Mister Fox in the Beatrix Potter books and one night was convinced Mister Fox was coming out of her wardrobe to eat her! She had got herself wedged behind her bedroom door and my sister was on the other side trying to open it. I’m not sure who was crying and screaming the loudest, Freya or my sister!
Acknowledge the fear
It is important to acknowledge their fears. Once a child feels heard about being scared of the dark and validated they are less fearful of the situation. The worst thing you can do is to shame them by saying something like ‘you silly boy, of course, there is nothing to be frightened of, you are just being ridiculous’.
Validation is essential to reduce fears. If you fail to validate the problem is still there, just like the elephant in the room. Once you’ve acknowledged and validated the next step is to explore this issue with them. The best way of doing this with a young child is to use bedtime storybooks with fear of the dark as the main theme. Here is a list of my go-to books for this I recommend reading to your little ones.
- Can’t You Sleep Little Bear by Martin Waddell
- I’m not (very) afraid of the dark by Anna Milbourne
- The Pout-Pout Fish in the Big-Big Dark by Deborah Diesen
- Orion and the Dark by Emma Yarlett
- Mika the Bear is Afraid of the Dark by Nicolas Duffaut and Yann Walcker
- Tell Me Something Happy Before I go to Sleep by Joyce Dunbar & Debi Gliori
- Little Owl’s Night by Divya Srinivasan
- There’s a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer
- The Owl Who Was Afraid of The Dark by Jill Tomlinson
- The Dark by Lemony Snicket
Once you start reading about other children who are scared of the dark it helps them understand they are not alone. They will feel these fears are normal and can be overcome. And that you as their parent understands them and wants to help them.
What else can you do to help your child get over their fear of the dark?
Use labelled praise to remind them how big and brave they are for going to bed and sleeping in their big boy bed. Labelled praise helps them feel confident and rewards positive behaviours.
Rather than using a night light give them a small torch with a very dim low watt bulb. Having a torch puts them in charge. They can turn it on and check the dark in their room. It’s amazing how their imagination can grow and a pile of books can easily turn into a big monster in the dark. When you go to bed make sure to turn their torch off. Remind them that the torch is only for emergencies and if it’s used too often it will be taken away – limit-setting and logical consequences.
I’m not a fan of night lights as used longterm they can affect the retina and interfere with melatonin production which leads to early morning waking. Melatonin is lowest at 5 am and any light interferes with its production even the current fashion of using red lights as night lights.
Exposure to light during sleep makes it difficult for the brain to achieve a deeper sleep. The more shallow or light sleep the child gets at night, the more the brain oscillations (activity) sending your child into deeper sleep are negatively affected.
Reading books helps winddown full stop and is an essential part of any good bedtime routine. Choose 5-10 books which are purely bedtime books. These are low key and may have sleeping as a theme. Your child can choose any 2 books out of the 10 on offer. The very last bedtime book is a book you read every single night and needs to have sleeping as its main theme. This last book is a comforting book and not one that discusses fears of the dark. The fear of the dark book is one of the two books to be read before this last one. The last thing you want on your child’s mind is a peaceful wind down to the land of nod. My favourite go-to bedtime book is Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.
Spraying diluted essential oils such as lavender and chamomile into each corner of the bedroom and onto the pillow as part of the bedtime routine can help. Call it Magic Sleep Dust and or Monsters & Ghosts Begone Spray. I sell these in my online store, they have crystals in the bottle and they are charged with my reiki healing energy.
And lastly how you settle your child to bed can have a positive impact on their psyche and reduce being scared of the dark. Turn the light down low whilst reading the books and use a small bedside light. If they really don’t like you leaving whilst they go to sleep try using my Magic Presence sleep technique and either sit just inside the room or on the other side of the door for a week. It is really important to move on with the process otherwise you risk over-attachment. Avoid laying on the bed with them no matter how loud the demands. At 3 years plus this is unlikely to be an emotional need and is often more of a control issue.
If you’d like more info on the Magic Presence method it’s in my NEW online Nurture Sleep Program.
Keep calm and in no time peace and sleep will resume.