Toddler Nighttime Fears: How to support them

Has your little one started to experience nighttime fears? Have they become afraid of the dark, or monsters in their bedroom? Do they wake up in the middle of the night, crying and terrified? Whilst it’s distressing for both you and your toddler, it’s common for young children to experience anxiety and fears at nighttime.

In this blog post, we will explore why toddlers experience nighttime fears and provide some strategies to help support and comfort them during these challenging moments.

Understanding and supporting toddlers with night fears

First, let’s look at why toddlers have night fears. Night fears are a normal part of a child’s development, and they often start to emerge around the age of two or three. Several factors contribute to these nighttime anxieties:

  • Imagination and cognitive development: Toddlers have vivid imaginations, and as they grow, their cognitive abilities expand. This newfound imagination can lead to the creation of scary scenarios, creatures, or situations in their minds, which they may struggle to differentiate from reality.
  • Fears of separation: Young children have a strong attachment to their parents or primary caregivers. The fear of being separated from them, even temporarily during sleep, can trigger anxiety and night fears.
  • Lack of control: Toddlers are gradually becoming aware of their own independence and control over their environment. However, when they are asleep, they have little control over what happens around them, which can be unsettling and contribute to feelings of vulnerability.
  • Overstimulation or exposure to scary content: Toddlers are sponges for information and can absorb images or stories that may be scary or overwhelming for their young minds. These could come from books, movies, or even conversations they overhear.

How to support and comfort toddlers with night fears

While it may be distressing to witness your toddler experiencing night fears, there are several ways you can provide comfort and support:

1. Validate their feelings

When your child experiences fear at nighttime or wakes up from a nightmare, it’s essential to acknowledge their fear and let them know that their emotions are valid. Offer reassurance and let them express their feelings. You might like to read Less questions, more naming: How to support your toddler’s development.

Replace: ‘You’re safe in your room, there’s no such thing as monsters’

With: ‘I can see you’re scared of the dark. I’m here for you. Do you need a cuddle?’

2. Create a safe and soothing sleep environment

Ensure your child’s sleep environment is calm, comfortable, and free from any stimulating or scary elements. Use a night light, a favourite stuffed animal, or comforting music to create a soothing atmosphere.

Top sleep tip: Replace blue nightlights that can suppress the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone) with red night lights. Blue night lights can signal wakefulness to the brain, and lead to poor sleep quality and increased daytime sleepiness.

3. Establish a consistent bedtime routine

A predictable bedtime routine helps toddlers feel secure and know what to expect. Some children need calming activities like reading a book, cuddling, or singing lullabies to help them wind down before sleep, while others need movement, giggles, and high energy games.

Connection tip: Find what kind of bedtime routine works best for your unique child, and do it consistently. The key here is to spend some special time with them connecting and filling their cup for a more contented, regulated sleep.

4. Communicate through play

Talk to your child about their fears during the daytime when they feel more secure. Listen attentively, empathise with their concerns, and offer age-appropriate explanations to help alleviate their worries.

Play can be a powerful tool for toddlers to express and communicate their fears of nighttime. Here are some good ways to incorporate play to help toddlers express and cope with their fears:

  • Role play: Use dolls, stuffed animals, or puppets to act out nighttime scenarios. Encourage your toddler to take on different roles and express their fears through the characters. This can help them externalise their fears and provide a safe space to explore and understand their emotions.
  • Storytelling: Create or read stories about nighttime fears and how characters overcome them. Use age-appropriate books with colourful illustrations to engage your toddler’s imagination and help them relate to the characters’ experiences. Some examples include ‘Orion and the Dark‘ and ‘Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear?‘. After reading, encourage your toddler to share their own thoughts and feelings about the story.
  • Drawing or artwork: Provide your toddler with crayons, markers, or paints and encourage them to draw or create artwork representing their fears. This can serve as a visual expression of their emotions and give them a sense of control over their fears. You can also join in and create your own artwork to show empathy and support.
  • Sensory play: Set up a calming sensory play area with materials like soft blankets, pillows, and dim lighting. Engage your toddler in activities such as playing with stress balls, kinetic sand, or sensory bins filled with calming materials like lavender-scented rice or dried flowers. This can help create a soothing environment and reduce anxiety around nighttime.
  • Bedtime play: Incorporate play and storytelling into your toddler’s bedtime routine. Use puppets or stuffed animals to act out a short, reassuring bedtime scenario. For example, have a puppet express their fears and then show how they can overcome them with the help of a parent or caregiver. This can provide a sense of security and comfort before sleep.
  • Open Communication: Encourage open dialogue with your toddler about their nighttime fears. Create a safe space where they feel comfortable expressing themselves and actively listen to their concerns. Validate their emotions and reassure them that their fears are normal. Avoid dismissing or belittling their feelings, as this may make them hesitant to share in the future.

5. Avoid exposure to scary content

Be mindful of the media and stories your child is exposed to, as they can contribute to their fears. Choose age-appropriate books, TV shows, and movies that promote positive and non-threatening content.

Screens and sleep tip: Some children are highly sensitive to the stimulating images and blue light emitted from devices, so you might find it beneficial to stop screen time 1-2 hours before bedtime.

6. Teach relaxation techniques

Introduce simple relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or visualisation exercises during the daytime. Practise these techniques together so your child can use them independently when they feel scared at night.

See our list of 9 relaxation techniques for toddlers to promote calm and wellbeing


Nighttime fears are a normal part of a toddler’s development and often diminish over time. By understanding the reasons behind these fears and providing the right gentle support, parents can help their little ones navigate through these nighttime anxieties. Remember, patience, empathy, and a comforting presence go a long way in helping toddlers overcome their night fears and enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep.

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