Night time can be a very stress­ful time for chil­dren and night time fears are com­mon and nor­mal

Your Baby & Toddler - - Your Toddler - BY CHEVONNE POW­ELL

As your child goes from be­ing a baby to a tod­dler, you may no­tice that night time fears and anx­i­ety in­crease. This is be­cause as your child be­gins to ex­plore their world they be­come more aware and be­gin to re­alise that things can go wrong – that some­times toys break or par­ents dis­ap­pear for hours.

Tod­dlers also have a hard time dis­tin­guish­ing fan­tasy from re­al­ity, so fears may spring out from sim­ple things, such as a bed­time story or some­thing they heard on the ra­dio. The most im­por­tant thing to re­mem­ber when deal­ing with your tod­dlers fears, is that th­ese fears are very real to them. Ac­knowl­edge this and don’t try and ra­tio­nalise their fear. Try to put your­self in your tod­dler’s shoes. Hav­ing this em­pa­thy is the first step to calm­ing their night time anx­i­ety.

Why is night time par­tic­u­larly anx­i­ety pro­vok­ing? Re­search sug­gests that our amyg­dala (the part of our brain that han­dles emo­tions) is over­ac­tive when we are tired. So neg­a­tive emo­tions are more likely to rise at night. Why, then, is it worse for tod­dlers? Your tod­dler’s brain is busy de­vel­op­ing rapidly. How­ever, their frontal lobes are not ma­ture (as they only start to ma­ture at around 5-6 years old) so they do not have the abil­ity to con­trol emo­tional im­pulses, to rea­son, they don’t have a well-de­vel­oped sense of time or abil­ity to dis­tin­guish re­al­ity. For th­ese rea­sons, anx­i­ety can quickly in­crease. Be­cause they don’t have the ca­pa­bil­i­ties, they need their par­ents to help them calm and soothe. Here are some easy tech­niques to calm your tod­dler’s night time fears.


Tod­dlers who are gen­er­ally wor­ried about things like sep­a­ra­tion, school, friends or par­ents, are more likely to have fear at night. Re­flect on is­sues of stress for your tod­dler and see what is un­nec­es­sary and can be re­duced, or al­ter­nately help him/her to cope with day time stress.


This in­cludes things on the TV, ra­dio or in dis­cus­sion, par­tic­u­larly pro­grammes such as the news. Pas­sive ex­po­sure (if your child is merely present while dis­turb­ing ma­te­rial is dis­cussed/seen), es­pe­cially be­fore bed­time, leads to more sleep dis­tur­bances and fear.


The main goal when deal­ing with anx­i­ety is to help your child to self soothe. We all ex­pe­ri­ence anx­i­ety through­out life, so anx­i­ety can­not be avoided. In­stead we need to learn ways of cop­ing with it. Tools for com­fort are things such as a night light, leav­ing the door open or us­ing a tran­si­tional ob­ject like a teddy or blan­ket. When us­ing a night light make sure that the light is soft and warm, not a blue or bright light, as this can stop the pro­duc­tion of mela­tonin which will stop your child from fall­ing asleep.

Be cre­ative with the tran­si­tional ob­ject. Cre­ate a

story to­gether where the bear has spe­cial pow­ers to chase away mon­sters, or maybe it has pow­ers to make your child in­vin­ci­ble. Chil­dren love tales, use this as a way to chase away scary thoughts and in­crease thoughts of con­fi­dence.


Teach your tod­dler to use pos­i­tive pow­er­ful thoughts when deal­ing with worry and fear. This is great tech­nique to com­bat all forms of stress as they get older. Help your child to think of sit­u­a­tions where he felt happy, brave or in con­trol. For ex­am­ple, you might en­cour­age him to think of the time he was at the sea­side or when he is play­ing with his friends. Tell him to cap­ture that mem­ory and think of it when he feels scared. An­other way to use your child’s imag­i­na­tion is by cre­at­ing sto­ries dur­ing the day time. Cre­ate sto­ries where he is the hero. Start off with a story that doesn’t have any fright­en­ing parts. Then slowly add in the fear (mon­sters un­der the bed) al­ways in­clud­ing the dif­fer­ent ways the hero was able to com­bat the fright­en­ing el­e­ment. Only in­ten­sify the story if your child shows con­fi­dence in go­ing fur­ther. By do­ing this you grad­u­ally de­sen­si­tise your child to the fear pro­vok­ing stim­u­lus.


Make your tod­dler’s room a place of safety. To­gether with your tod­dler cre­ate var­i­ous ad­di­tions to the room that will help him feel more in con­trol. Make his room as open, cozy and com­fort­able as pos­si­ble. Make a sign for the door (or closet door) that says, “NO mon­sters al­lowed in Jack’s room!” Put the night light in a place that il­lu­mi­nates the room. You could even put fun pic­tures on the wall or glow in the dark stickers on the ceil­ing to make the room a fun space at night.


Tod­dlers do not yet have the vo­cab­u­lary to ex­press how they feel or what is hap­pen­ing in their minds. With their ac­tive imag­i­na­tion but lim­ited ver­bal ex­pres­sion it can be­come quite con­fus­ing for them. Help your tod­dler to ex­press emo­tions by talk­ing about them. Keep it sim­ple, re­mem­ber that your tod­dler has a lim­ited at­ten­tion span. If your lit­tle one wakes up in the night ask them if they feel scared or wor­ried. Help them name the emo­tion to tame it. A fun method is to give the bad feel­ing a name, like Steve. When your tod­dler feels scared he can tell Steve to go away!


A rou­tine creates pre­dictabil­ity, and pre­dictabil­ity makes a child feel safe and se­cure. Es­tab­lish a bed­time rou­tine and stick to it. This should in­clude bath time, story time and quiet time for love and cud­dling be­fore lights out. Try to keep this time peace­ful. Once the rou­tine is es­tab­lished, your child’s brain will be­gin pre­par­ing it­self for sleep from bath time! This will pre­vent too much time awake in bed which can cre­ate fears.


If your child con­tin­ues to be fear­ful at night, even af­ter try­ing th­ese meth­ods, seek ad­vice from a pro­fes­sional psy­chol­o­gist. At times night time anx­i­ety can be a symp­tom of other prob­lems that may need to be in­ves­ti­gated.

R290 Stephen Joseph 010 020 2038


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