Helping Your Child’s Nighttime Fears


Oct 18, 2022

Is your toddler or preschooler experiencing nighttime fears? Are they afraid of going to sleep? Asking you to stay in their room after saying goodnight? Making stories about monsters in the room? 

Mild, nighttime fears around bedtime is a common issue I see time and time again with children ages 2.5 years and up. 

In this episode of the Little Z’s Sleep Podcast, I discuss how to tackle the ROOT of your child’s nighttime fears. Learn how to pour attention, security, and praise over your child during their bedtime routine as well as how to offer them comfort items in order to ease their tensions when it’s finally time say goodnight.

Dealing with SEVERE fears? >>These tips might help, but I’d suggest finding a local family counselor to help you and your family sort through your child’s anxieties and stressors.

When it comes to nighttime fears, we are talking specifically about toddlers and preschoolers.

Around 2.5 years of age, children can begin to express that they are afraid of something, like the dark!

Sometimes, children can express their fears at an even earlier age, especially if they have older siblings.

Children often express their fears around bedtime when they know they are going to be alone in a dark room. 

Although it’s common for nighttime fears to crop up at bedtime with your toddler or preschooler, it doesn’t have to derail their sleep!

By implementing these simple, yet powerful strategies below, your child can successfully conquer their nighttime fears and sleep soundly through the night. 

 Evaluate How Much Time your Child Spends on a Screen

The majority of the families I work with place their toddler or preschooler in a full-day or half-day preschool program or daycare. 

When everyone gets home for the evening, it’s common to give your child some screen time while you prepare dinner. 

 However, if your child is expressing fears at bedtime, then you may need to decrease their amount of screen time before bed.

Be aware of what they’re watching, too.

Vivid or scary images can also cause them to become fearful before bedtime and during the night.

When it comes to reducing screen time I know you might be thinking, “Easier said than done, Becca,” but I really want you to take this to heart.

Tune in to what your child is consuming for media and turn screens off at least one-two hours before bedtime.

>>>>>>If you would like to implement a  screen time plan for your family but feel lost with where to start, check out my blog post on How to Create a Family Screen Time Plan HERE.<<<<<

A screen, or more specifically blue light, blocks the release of natural melatonin (the hormone that triggers your body to sleep)!

Instead of offering your toddler or preschooler screen time in the evening, send them outside to play!

Sending them outside to play not only helps to limit and decrease their amount of screen time before bedtime but it also allows them to get all of their active energy out.

It’s extremely important for your toddler or preschooler to engage in movement before they settle in for the night, and playing outside is the perfect way for them to do this.

Your child’s body (and yours!) is triggered to produce melatonin when it’s exposed to the sunset.

So get outside!

You will fall asleep and stay asleep easier when you are all able to experience and soak in the evening sun.

Determine if your Child is Overtired 

We all know that over-tiredness is the enemy of sleep.

But did you know that when your child has a lot of sleep to catch up on, it can actually trigger nighttime fears, nightmares and night terrors, too!

 If you’re unfamiliar with nightmares and night terrors, be sure to check out Episode 21: Nightmares and Night Terrors: How to Tell the Difference and Help Your Child Cope HERE. 

Over-tiredness triggers nightmares and night terrors and can negatively impacts your child’s thoughts.

If your child is behind on sleep and is expressing fears at bedtime, consider offering them an earlier bedtime of 15-30 minutes, for consecutive days if needed.

Implement a Fun, Consistent Bedtime Routine 

Your child’s bedtime routine is what sets the tone for the rest of the night!

As you might know, I’m a HUGE advocate for a fun and structured bedtime routine. 

>>>>>Wondering if you need to revamp your child’s bedtime routine? Check out my Ideal Toddler Bedtime Routine HERE.  and my Ideal Bedtime Routine for Kids HERE. Enjoy listening to a podcast more? Listen HERE!

If your child is expressing nighttime fears, it’s extremely important to make sure that bedtime routine is fun, consistent, and positive. 

Below are some ways to do just that.

Play Your Child’s Favorite Music

One easy way to “set the mood” during bedtime routine is to turn on some music.

Let your child choose their favorite song or album, and let it play throughout their bedtime routine, starting as early as bath time!

When your child has a fun, structured, consistent bedtime routine every night it allows them to feel secure and safe. 

You shouldn’t let your child run the show at bedtime routine, but you CAN allow them to have fun during it! Playing their favorite music is the PERFECT way to do this. 

Use a Toddler Clock Color System

A toddler clock is an extremely helpful tool for children who are 2 years of age and older.

If you aren’t familiar with my toddler clock color system, Learn how to get the most out of your toddler clock HERE. 

Using a color system is a simple and fun way to keep your child on track without having to constantly tell them they have five minutes left before bedtime. 

A toddler clock is also a GREAT night light! 

In this video, I show you how to introduce a night light to your toddler.

If your toddler or preschooler is telling you that they are afraid of the dark, then you can use their toddler clock to help with this!

You can let the toddler clock glow all night long, but I recommend putting it on a low, dimmed setting with a warm hue of color (red, orange, or yellow.)

This way, the light won’t disrupt your child’s sleep as much, but it will still provide them with a warm, comforting glow as they sleep.

Give Your Child Comfort Items

Whenever you are working with a toddler or preschooler on their sleep, it’s all about building their CONFIDENCE.

YOU are their cheerleading squad and their praise team! You have to be the one to tell them they can do this!

It’s imperative that you praise your child and make them feel like they’re doing the best job ever when it comes to sleeping.

Then, once they’re in their bed, offer them a comfort item or two to help them feel safe, cozy, and secure.

If your child has been asking for Mom or Dad to lay with them or to hold their hand, then it’s extremely helpful to offer them some type of comfort item that is directly from Mom or Dad.

You can simply tell them, “Mommy is going to sleep in their bed tonight, but you can sleep with Mommy’s pillow.”

Or you can say, “You can have mommy’s or daddy’s t-shirt to cuddle with and sleep with tonight. It FEELS like mommy and it SMELLS like mommy (or daddy)!

Really play it up with your kid and hug the pillow, saying things like, “When you hug this pillow I feel your hug!”

If your child isn’t into a pillows or T-shirts, another option you could try is a picture.

Print some family photos and hand hang them up around your child’s room, specifically by their bed, so that they can see them as they are falling asleep and during the night if they wake up.

Give your child comfort items that can replace the physical presence of mom or Dad.

*If your child is 4+ year old, you may want to consider the Zenimal as a way to help them fall asleep peacefully! Use code LITTLEZSLEEP to save on yours!*

Carry out a Lovey/Buddy “Roll Call”

When it’s time to wrap up my daughters’ bedtime routine, I like to do a think I call “Buddy Roll Call.”

I tuck them in, say a prayer, sing a song with each of them and then go to the door and say,

“OK! it’s buddy roll call time. Where’s Mingo? Where’s Bunny? Where’s Monkey? Where’s Lamby?”

My daughter finds all of her buddies and situates them for bed.

Then I say, “Okay, hug them tight! Goodnight!”

Ending the night on a positive note like this will allow your child to feel affirmed, secure, and safe – helping them to conquer their nighttime fears and sleep all night. 

Are You Still Helping Your Child Fall Asleep at Night?

Let’s take a moment to be really clear.

The strategies that I just shared with you above are going to help you conquer your child’s nighttime fears IF your child is used to sleeping independently.

If you are currently sleeping WITH your child all night or your child is depending on you to hold their hand or rub their back while they’re falling asleep in their bed, then you are going to need more than these tips. You are going to need a clear, step-by-step plan to get your child sleeping independently.

If you’re ready to make sleep a thing for your Toddler (16mo-3 years) and teach them how to sleep independently then check out my Toddler Sleep Program HERE!

Likewise, if you’re ready to make sleep a thing for your Preschooler (3-5 years) then check out my  Preschool Sleep Program HERE!


Your child’s nighttime fears can be conquered!

  • Monitor your child’s screen time and cut it off two hours before bedtime. Encourage your child to instead play outside to promote adequate melatonin production for sleep.
  • Offer an early bedtime if your child has had a busy day or has lost sleep over the last few nights.
  • Implement a fun, consistent bedtime routine that allows your child to feel safe and secure.
  • Provide your child with comfort items that they can sleep with during the night.

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