When your baby becomes a toddler, anxiety and fears around bedtime may start to surface. They might say there are monsters in their room, scary shadows are appearing, or they’re scared of the dark. Separation anxiety also tends to set in during toddler years so they could express concerns about being left alone to sleep or needing you in the middle of the night. Good news is, this is all normal, and temporary.
Here are a few tips to help you and your toddler navigate these changes:
Wind Down Together
Take time after dinner to wind down with your child. A calming bedtime routine with the same sequence of events each night can be comforting to your toddler and help them drift off to sleep. Run a warm bubble bath for them, have them pick out their softest pajamas, do some child yoga stretches together, read stories, or simply lie down together and create some quiet time to connect. It’s important to shower your toddler with lots of love and attention right before bedtime to help them separate from you. Before bedtime turn off the TV, dock your phone and other devices on their chargers, and give your child your full attention. These calm moments together will give your child an opportunity to open up to you about any thoughts and fears they have before they drift off to sleep.
Validate Fears & Worries
When your child shares their worries and fears with you, it’s important to validate them. Your child will have a much easier time relaxing and falling asleep if they feel seen and heard. For example, if they mention something that is bothering them from the day, take time to process it together and make a plan for the next day. If they feel scared in their room, calmly explain how safe your home is and why you picked this home for that exact reason. If there is a shadow from a piece of furniture in their room, teach them how to make shadow animals so they can see first-hand how fun shadows can be. If they talk about monsters in their room, have them draw the monster they see, and then have them add funny features to the monster, like a big hat or funky shoes. Use these simple tools to help guide your child through their big feelings and their fears will go from scary to silly in no time.
Reward your child
After your child has a great night of sleep, reward them for it. When you reunite with your child in the morning be sure to tell them what a superstar sleeper they are and how brave they were to overcome their fears. At the breakfast table you can let your child choose a sticker with their favorite character, animal or theme as a badge of honor. After a couple great nights of sleep, celebrate your child by planning a fun pancake breakfast, an ice cream sundae bar with their favorite toppings or a family movie night. Over time you will see the positive effects that nurturing your child’s autonomy has on your whole family.
Take It Slow
Bedtime couldn’t come sooner for most parents. After your kids are asleep, you finally get to watch that new Netflix show or take a hot shower in peace. Unfortunately, toddlers pick up on that energy and notice when a parent is having their own anxiety and fears around their child’s bedtime. If you rush through the bedtime routine, your child may feel like they didn’t get the adequate time together that they needed. While it may take several nights of helping your child through their fears at bedtime, it will be worth it and you’ll be able to get back to your adult time before you know it.