When your toddler doesn’t want to go to bed, it can be stressful for parents. In my last post, I talked about what to do in the case of a toddler who simply feels he or she will be missing out on the fun of staying awake. This post will talk about what to do if your toddler is scared of bedtime.
Why would a toddler be scared of bedtime? It could stem from a fear of the dark, fear of separation from the parents, fear of not waking up, or the all-too-common “there are monsters under my bed!”.
But I want to tell you that worrying about “why” your toddler is scared is the wrong approach. Parents should instead focus on what and how the fear manifests itself in a child. Fear comes from the pictures we make in our minds and the things that we say to ourselves. If we change the pictures (make better movies in our minds) and if we say more useful things to ourselves, we won’t be so scared.
With a young toddler, you can’t always explain this directly. So instead, you need an indirect approach. You need to teach your toddler, in an unconscious way, that bed time is safe, cozy, comfortable and fun.
Yelling at your child to stay in bed is not the answer! I hope this is clear by now. If you do yell, you simply add one more “scary” thing to the laundry list of issues that might be causing fear for your child.
If your toddler tells you he is scared of the dark, you need to make the dark seem more fun. I’ll give you two examples of how to do this without trying to directly tell your child “the dark is fun”. Because that direct explanation is too logical for an emotional problem. You need to correct it by causing your toddler to give himself different internal messages about what “darkness” means in the context of his own bedroom.
Method 1: Put glow in the dark stickers on your child’s wall and ceiling. Then, after leaving the lights on to let the stickers “charge up”, lie in bed with your toddler after the lights are off. Tell him a story about how you love to just pretend you are in a wonderful, safe forest looking up at the stars on a beautiful clear night. Now, if your child is scared of the forest, then say something else! But this type of “story telling” combined with something new (the glow in the dark stickers), can create an instant change in the way your child perceives bed.
Method 2: GIve your child a small flashlight to shine around the room. Lie with him and let him shine it around the ceiling. Show him how fast movements of the flashlight will create a tracer effect. This will interest almost all children and they will become so entranced with the flashlight that they forget about how they used to be scared of the dark.
These methods both serve to “anchor” a safe feeling or a fun feeling to being in bed in the dark at night. There are plenty of other methods that will work as well, and if you listen to my Talking to Toddlers audio course you’ll gain enough knowledge to make up your own methods that will be perfectly suited to your own child, and help you improve child behavior.
Enjoy your children,