Our quick and easy bedtime routine evaporated when we moved a couple of weeks ago. Pre-move, after stories we could leave the room and Laurel would happily chat and sing her way to sleep. Now there’s a lot of stalling and sadness if we try to leave when she is awake. From what we could understand from Laurel, she was scared of the dark.
While our move clearly changed things, a conversation with the mom of one of Laurel’s pals – who, even as the world’s most unflappable toddler, recently has become fearful of the dark – prompted me to look further into night fears.
Night fears apparently are a typical developmental marker for 2-3 year olds. A useful article from Parenting iVillage points out that toddlers haven’t yet mastered the idea of object constancy in terms of understanding that things that weren’t already present don’t just develop in the dark. This idea really clicked; last week we heard a dog barking outside, and Laurel kept saying “noisy dog, no come in Laurel’s room.” I thought she was just cutely obsessing about the dog barking; now I can only assume that her imagination was off to the races, thinking about the noisy and scary dog coming into her room.
Among Parenting iVillage’s coping tips, the ideas of really listening and acknowledging the fears made a lot of sense both short and long-term. Last night instead of simply trying to comfort Laurel and tell her that her room was a safe place, I asked about her fears and we talked about them for a while. In addition to the darkness (remedied by leaving the hallway light on) I learned that “big house, mommy daddy too far away” was an issue (our new flat is on two floors, with all the bedrooms upstairs). We talked more about this concern and by the end of the conversation, although Laurel still would have rather had me hold her hand until she conked out, she fell asleep quicker and with far less fuss than she has over the last couple of weeks.