Young children are often scared of the dark - and the monsters they imagine hiding in their room! Our sleep expert, Hannah Love from Yummy Baby Group explains how to handle your little one's fears.
It’s very common for children to be frightened of the dark. It can happen from as young as four months old, when babies have a big developmental change called ‘object permanence’. This means noticing when something has changed.
When it comes to being scared of the dark, this developmental change means that if for example your baby goes to sleep in a light room but wakes in the night in a dark room, they will spot the change. This can cause them to become stressed, and is definitely something to consider if your baby is awake and upset in the night.
As with anything that babies or children are unsure or frightened of, the reason is usually simply because it’s not something that has been ‘normalised’ for them.
After working with babies and toddlers for the last 20 years, I've made a fair few observations along the way. Here are a few tips on how to help your little one master these fears so that you can all rest easily.
- Consistency - try to make the bedroom your child wakes up in overnight as close as possible to the environment they go to sleep in. There are of course many reasons for a baby needing help getting back to sleep in the night. But to rule out a baby being frightened of the dark I would recommend that everything is as consistent as possible – especially the light levels in the room.
- Consider a night light – they can be really useful for all ages. A red night light won't interfere with their circadian rhythm and melatonin production and can contribute to a calming, soothing and familiar environment. Sometimes it is much easier to resolve the environment rather than try and reverse the fear, and a night light can help to achieve a consistent amount of light in the room.
- Feelings of being frightened of the dark can manifest around bed time. If this is the case for your child then ensuring a relaxing and familiar bed time routine is reassuring for them. Children love things to be the same each day - predictability is key. Having the same sleep triggers can also be useful - and consider all their senses - some soothing music, a diffuser with a familiar small such as lavender oil, familiar and comforting bedding and possibly a little light show. Expecting a child or toddler to go to sleep in a dark and silent room can be a big ask.
- In older children who can express their feelings and concerns, it’s important to talk to them, to let them voice their fears and talk them through it. I’ve seen activities like making dream catchers, or a night-time bedroom spray can be so useful. Feeling like they have a practical resolution to their fears can really help.
- Blackout blinds can be a great tool, for summer months especially. But they can make a bedroom incredibly dark in the middle of the night. In winter, lined curtains, like these from Bloomsbury Mill, will keep the room dark without it being pitch black.
I have experienced so many babies and toddlers waking and not liking the room being so completely lacking light. So even though it may feel contradictory, a small nightlight or leaving the door a crack open alongside a blackout blind can often work well.
Hannah Love is a qualified paediatric nurse, nutritional therapist, nanny, mummy of three, and has been helping babies and children sleep well in a kind and gentle way for over 15 years. Head over to her website for more top tips and advice.