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Mommy, I’m afraid of the dark!

When our toddlers and preschoolers unexpectedly display fears before bedtime, we often times get thrown for a loop.

Understanding where our children are coming from, allows us to better meet their needs. Let’s have a look at what is actually the driving force behind their request.

We first start to observe the signs of imagination developing within our children around two years old. Our family room couches transform into busses, dining room tables into tents and remote controls are used to make pretend phone calls to grandma. Imaginative play feels so real to our children and is so sweet to watch from the side.

Our 2-year-old's imagination evolves right along with their ability to think abstractly – and that means that our children can imagine things that don’t exist, like monsters under the bed or someone hiding in the closet. This is why at around the age of two and a half, children begin displaying fears…especially fear of the dark.

It is important to acknowledge our children’s fears and to meet them where they’re at. Telling your three-year-old that there is nothing to be afraid of only exacerbates their stress. Now, not only are they afraid of the dark, but they also do not feel heard nor understood, and feel alone in their worry.

So how can we help our children?

1. Listen- Listen to what your child is telling you and seek to understand. After your child verbalizes (to the best of their ability) their fear, repeat it back to them to see if you have really understood them. This simple act of listening and repeating back to them allows them to feel heard. And feeling heard helps us feel safe.

2. Limit- Limit your child’s exposure to screentime and monitor what they watch (if at all). Even a seemingly innocent show can introduce them to scary and disturbing  situations, which then automatically become part of their world. (I.e. a burning fire or an injured animal).

3. Light- Buy your little one a small and inexpensive children’s flashlight. Show it to them after the bedtime routine and together, conduct a short walk through of their room each night before bed. During this ritual, your child can take charge of his fear. Children enjoy this and will use their flashlight to check the closet, under their bed, and sometimes even inside their drawers. At the end of the check, they turn off the flashlight and place it under their pillow, in case they feel the need to use it again at night.

Allowing your child to take charge of their fear with a tool that is kid friendly gives them agency. They also feel validated because we have listened and taken their fear seriously. Lastly, having this fun, little ritual of checking their room with a flashlight becomes something to look forward to before bed, as opposed to something to dread.

Try this little trick, it works like a charm. Write me your comments, I’m curious to hear how it worked for your child.

P.S. Look at the cutie pie in the picture who fell asleep with his flashlight 🔦🤩🥰💪🏻

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