My three year old recently developed nighttime fears and getting her to bed had become a nightmare. It started with a fear of animals outside and progressed to scary shadows and spiders. It took my husband and I about two weeks to get her back into a routine and ultimately learn how to address these new fears. After frantic googling and reading, we learned that if she started to cry at night when it was time for bed or woke during the night crying or upset, we needed to first address that it is okay for her to be scared. And we learned not to treat bedtime fears as normal night wakings.
Bedtime fears are a completely normal part of a toddler’s development, but that doesn’t make it any easier! When our daughter’s fears first developed, they seemingly came out of nowhere. She would get scared and we would comfort her and then try to quickly talk her through what might be bothering her. She was honest! Often times it was linked to something she experienced that day or week. For instance, a scary bear on an episode of Paw Patrol (no more Paw Patrol for now) really set her off, as did a specific shadow in the corner of her room. We would explain “Oh, that is just your bathrobe that Mommy hung up after we took a bath, remember?” The trick was to make sure and keep it short, try not to over-talk the issue and then focus right back on getting her to bed while thinking about something fun. Talking about what we were going to have for breakfast the next morning or reminding her that she was going to see her friends at school the next day worked really well. We would then segue with something like “Let’s get back to bed and get some rest so you have energy to play at school tomorrow!” We would also talk a lot about what could be causing these fears during the day. For instance, she would repeatedly bring up being afraid of animals. So, we made sure to talk about what animals she might be scared of, what was scaring her specifically, then reassure her that she is safe and not to worry! Now, we are hyper-aware of her fears and do our best to talk them through with her if and when they do arise.
There are SO many articles and books out there on the topic of bedtime fears or children’s fears in general, but here are a few quick reads that really helped. My sister-in-law shared this great article with us. And we also found this article to be very helpful as well as this one! And, as a side note we have not had to worry about night terrors. But here is some helpful information on night terrors if your little one is experiencing this scary phase.
We have slowly transitioned from tears and refusal to go to bed, back to a more normal routine (albeit with a few more checks under the bed!) A few items that have helped: we love this nightlight that our daughter can control (also helpful if she has to get up and go potty.) We got her a few new books. She loves Shhh! This Book is Sleeping and The Moon Inside (more recommendations below). Lastly, we re-implemented the use of a sleep reward chart. I created this chart a little over a year ago when my daughter went through a period of nap refusals. We’ve used it a couple of times since then with great results. As soon as the behavior starts to get back to the norm, we phase out the chart. Sometimes a little motivation simply goes a long way! If you have any questions about using a reward chart, we really like this article that touches on the do’s and don’ts of using one. We have had great success with it in our home!
We are so excited to be sharing this sleep reward chart with you today as a FREE download! To access your FREE DOWNLOAD, click here (or click on the box) and sign up for our newsletter. Once you sign up, you’ll receive an e-mail with the link to download! Your download includes a color version AND a black and white version of the sleep reward chart. We simply print ours out at home and tape it to the wall. If you are already subscribed to our newsletter, don’t worry! Just check your inbox for a private link.
Finally, here are a few additional book recommendations. My husband and I lean on children’s books for so many things – finding a relatable story for your child to connect with can work wonders!