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Dealing with Nighttime Anxiety



As your toddler develops their language as comprehension skills, you may begin to see them take a little bit of a turn towards the anxious side. As their imagination begins to flourish, so do their fears of the unknown. Monsters in the closet, fear of the dark, and a variety of other anxieties about the dark can start to show up around bedtime, leading to them leaving their room in the middle of the night and looking to climb into bed with their parents.


On the one hand, you shouldn’t be dismissive, but you also don’t want to give the impression that there’s anything to be afraid of. Striking a balance between the two should be very helpful in restoring your little one’s positive attitude about bedtime and getting them sleeping peacefully through the night again.


Identify their concerns


Ask your child what they’re afraid of and give them the opportunity to explain in detail. Bear in mind, no matter how amusing these concerns may seem to you, they’re as real to your kids as a home intruder may be to you, so don’t laugh or make light of their fears. Take them seriously, but explain the difference between reality and fantasy as clearly and matter-of-factly as you can.


I’ve seen a lot of parents tell their toddlers that they’ll protect them from creatures and monsters, or even put some water in a spray bottle and call it, “Monster Repellant.” I advise against this, since it supports your child’s belief that, yes, these things do exist, but we can take measures to prevent them. In my experience, it’s more effective to consistently reassure your child that they’re strictly imaginary.


Provide security objects and nightlights


Who can honestly say they didn’t feel safer with their favorite blanket or stuffed animal by their sides when they were little? A lovie is a fantastic tool for helping your little one feel secure in their bed, whatever form it takes. I’ve seen toddlers develop nighttime attachments to everything from blankets to socks to hard plastic dinosaurs. If it’s safe and gives your little one a sense of security, indulge them.


As for nightlights, keep them as dim as possible and look for lights with warm colors. The lower on the Kelvin scale, the better. Blue light (or higher on the Kelvin scale) stimulates cortisol production and inhibits melatonin, which is the exact opposite of what we want during the night.


Don’t bring them into your bed


This can be challenging, I know. It’s a very natural instinct to let your child climb into bed with you if they’ve had a bad dream or scary moment in the night, but it can very quickly lead to your little one complaining of nightmares or boogeymen just to get into your bed. I suggest walking them back to their room, reassuring them that they’re safe and secure, and offering as much comfort as they need to get settled. If they’re really in a state, you can lie down in their bed with them for a bit, but be sure to leave the room before they fall asleep so they don’t become dependent on you being next to them in order to doze off.


Turn off screens at least an hour before bed


As I mentioned earlier, the blue light from TVs, phones, and tablets impairs the body’s ability to produce melatonin, which means there’s more potential for nighttime wakeups, as well as more time spent in the REM stage, which is when dreaming occurs. Nothing is more likely to wind your little one up in the middle of the night than waking up from a weird dream, so shut off the electronics at least an hour before bedtime and avoid any stories or activities that might be scary or stimulating for your child.

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