Toddlers are often fearful creatures with active imaginations. Between age 2-3, a child’s cognitive development blossoms and they become able to understand the concept of fear. Their imaginations create scary things lurking in the dark, under the bed, and in the closet.
During the preschool years, a child’s fears will grow even more sophisticated. Parents can support their children through these years by creating a supportive environment and teaching their child coping skills for positively dealing with their fears.
Tips for handling fear of the dark
- Introduce a night light. If your two or three year old begins to be afraid of the dark, it’s generally ok to use a nightlight. For some children, they will be more willing to stay in their room. For others, night lights create shadows and distractions that interfere further with sleep. Experiment with different low-light versions to find if a nightlight would work for your child.
- Always respond to a scared child. Parents should always comfort a scared child. When a child feels safe and supported, they will eventually become capable of dealing with fears on their own when they are older. Allow your child to express his feelings and listen carefully to what he tells you.
- Do not reinforce your child’s fears . Creating elaborate stories may only fuel your child’s imagination. Rather than looking under the bed for monsters, simply state, “Monsters are not real.”
- Provide reassurance. “You are always safe in your bed.” This is a daily process that requires repetition. Children will eventually learn that every night they go to sleep, and every morning they wake up safe and sound. Give them time to develop this skill.
- Respect your child’s temperament. Every child is different. Some are naturally more adventurous, while others are more timid. Respect your child’s natural tendencies. Refrain from saying “Be brave.” or “Toughen up”, help them develop real coping skills. Celebrate their victories when they succeed in truly conquering their fears!
Tips for dealing with toddler nightmares
- Ask your child about her dreams. Try, “What happened? What did that dog chasing you look like?”
- Practice “reimagining” nightmares together. Help the child rewrite the dream. “You didn’t like it when the dog chased you. Where did you want the dog to go instead? Back in the yard?”
- Let children know they have some control of their dreams. “Maybe tonight you will dream about a big friendly dog who loves chasing Frisbees.”
- Ask your child if they’d like to make a picture about their dreams. Artwork helps children talk about and explore their feelings in order to make them seem less scary. “What a furry dog you imagined!”
- Use books when appropriate. Sometimes reading a book about a topic the child finds scary can help them curb their fears.
Do night lights cause nearsighted children?
Many parents became alarmed by the results of an American study conducted in 1999, which found a link between using a nightlight and developing myopia (being nearsighted).
The authors of that study have since backed down from their findings and follow-up studies by different research teams have found no relationship between nightlights and near-sightedness.
The vast majority of research states that parents should not worry. A nightlight can make a world of difference for a child with a fear of the dark and having lights on at night does not cause myopia.