Dear Dr. Bill,
My 2-1/2-year-old daughter is suddenly throwing hysterical fits about going to bed. She’s never expressed fears about bedtime before, but now she is begging to sleep in bed with us. She really seems to be disturbed about something — and I’m at a loss what to do next.
It’s fairly common for toddlers to experience bedtime fears. Their little imaginations are developing like wildfire and they don’t have the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality. In their mind, there really IS a monster in the closet or under the bed. Many young children also experience nightmares or night terrors. It happened to my own daughter when she was around 2-1/2.
It’s likely that your daughter is simply going through a phase, and that she will outgrow it in time. Her imagination may be running wild and she might have had some nightmares that really scared her.
It’s also possible that she’s reacting to some kind of stress in her life. Ask yourself if there have been recent any changes or events that have occurred that seem scary to her. These could include things such as a loss of a friend or a pet, the arrival of a new baby sibling, marital conflict between you and your husband, or even a new job that’s been requiring you to work long hours.
If your daughter doesn’t have a night-light in her room, buy her one. You could also buy her a stuffed animal that will be her special “bedtime buddy,” providing her with comfort when you’re not there. You might also buy an inexpensive CD player for her room and let her listen to kids worship songs just before she falls asleep
Perhaps most importantly, pray with her each night when you tuck her in, and teach her pray simple prayers if she wakes up afraid in the night, asking God to help her to not be afraid.
Thanks for writing Melissa. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, just click the “Questions” tab on the Culture Connection page.