Toddler Sleep: How To Handle Bedtime Fears

bedtime bedtime fears gentle sleep coach sleep routine toddler sleep Dec 07, 2023

Congrats! You got through the baby stage! Toddler sleep can bring a new set of challenges but in my experience, they're easier to handle simply because they're older and have more more communication! We can better prep them for any changes and we have more tools in our toolkit to help them through any tricky phases. 

Before getting into bedtime fears, let's have a quick rundown of toddler sleep and why you might be seeing sleep struggles in this age group. 

What is going on?! 

If you have a toddler, it is likely going to come as no surprise when I say "MAN, toddler sleep can be TOUGH!". Out of nowhere, it can feel like naps, bedtime and night sleep derails. Not just that, but you are faced with a whole heap of challenges you never really experienced with your child before. 

You may start to experience things like.. 

-delays at bedtime
-difficulty with transitions to bed 
-intense preferences around sleep conditions 
-intense separation anxiety 
-nightmares and night terrors 
-and what we'll be chatting about today - fears and worries / anxieties about being in the dark and being alone. 

Why is this happening? 

It's really normal for toddlers to crave more independence and autonomy. Quite quickly, sleep can feel even harder than it did when they were a baby. While difficult, reframing our thinking to what is happening in our toddler's world can help us to understand WHY sleep may be tricky. 

Their worlds are expanding, their understanding of themselves is growing and they might also be going through some big changes like daycare, preschool or new siblings. 

We'll have another blog just on toddler sleep and how to optimize. But for now, just know that these things are very common. You're not doing anything wrong! 

Okay, toddler bedtime fears. 

When you toddler was younger, you may have gone through seasons of separation anxiety, where they struggled to be alone at bedtime but this time it feels different. You noticed a nervousness before bed – maybe your toddler didn’t want to go to their room without you, or they didn’t seem comfortable with the hall light off.

Now that its actually time for bed, they seem afraid, they’re wanting you to stay close, they seem scared of something in the room or they’re communicating that they’re afraid.

First up, I want to validate this experience! Its really tough when you start to see genuine fears around bedtime showing up, but this is really common as your toddler’s imagination continues to grow and develop, generally around age 3ish and upwards (but of course you may notice this earlier).

As mentioned, you might find this may also be triggered by other things – a new sibling, starting school, nightmares or (as we have been doing through recently!) moving house.

What can we do to help:

  •    See if you can identify a trigger – is there a movie or book that seems to be the cause? Even diffing deeper there, toddler are quite literal and sometimes cartoons of books can be a little scary without understanding the underlying message. Do a little digging to make sure there isn’t a specific trigger point
  •    Intentional language and positive affirmations – we all need to feel safe and secure to fall asleep “your bed is safe and a happy place” “your house is safe and filled with everyone who loves you”
  •    Kiddy meditation or soothing audio books to help calm and relax your toddler as part of the bedtime routine (the Moshi app is great for this!)
  •    Using a bedtime routine chart or social stories that talk about the bedtime routine and how safe and lovely bedtime is
  •    Introducing a red based night light
  •    Ensuring there are ways they can feel connected to you while you are apart – family photos on the wall, matching teddies, reading books like the invisible string or letting them sleep with a small item of your clothing.
  •    Sleeping with your toddler in their room for a week or two to help them to feel safe and secure
  •    Make sure there isn’t anything physical to fix – a blinking light that you could cover, a noise from outside you could mask or a shadow you could block.

Things that won’t be helpful 

  •    Remember, we want their room to feel safe and secure – make sure there isn’t anything happening in the room that can make it feel ‘negative’
  •    This is really real to your toddler, make sure not to diminish their experience but instead, make sure you validate them and build their confidence that you will always come when you need and that you are never far away ‘I understand you’re afraid, you are safe and I’m right here with you, ill always come when you need me and im never far away’  
  •    Make sure you aren’t doing anything that could validate that the fear is real – if they are scared of something ghosts, don’t go and look for them. I’ve fallen into this trap myself and I get it! It feels like it might be helpful to show your toddler that ‘nothing is there’ but this only validates that they are real, instead, talk to them about how ‘owls are bird and they only live outside’ ‘monsters aren’t real, it was only in the movie’

Of course, if your kiddos fears feel extreme or you notice them throughout the day as well, check in with your GP. 

Alright, there you have it, practical tips to help your toddler with bedtime fears! 

Hope this helps! If you have any questions, be sure to head to our Instagram stories where we have regular Q&A's! 

-Claire xo 

Need more help? 

If you need some more support with your baby or toddlers sleep, we'd love to help you! 

1:1 Consultations (Worldwide!): HERE

The Gentle Sleep Coach Membership: HERE 

 Age Specific On-Demand Sleep Guides: HERE