3 Yr Old Scared of Dark, Delaying Bedtime, Peeing at Night- in That Order

Updated on October 08, 2010
M.M. asks from Hopkins, MN
9 answers

My almost 3 year old now claims to be afraid of the dark. Putting her to bed takes 30-50 minutes as she insists on reading story after story. At first I felt like she was faking her fears b/c she'd rather be playing, but I'm starting to believe her since she gets so frightened she cries & will throw a fit if we leave her- things she didn't do before. She's also having accidents almost every night. We've cut down on liquids but still no difference. August 23rd she had a high fever & wet the bed for the 1st time ever (potty trained & dry for over 6 months, until now). Ever since then, she gets up multiple times a night & needs stories all over again like her normal bedtime routine. If I refuse, she'll have a temper tantrum that goes on forever, even if it's 3 am! Last night we found her sitting in the hallway sucking her thumb. She was scared of her room, her bed...She has a lamp that we keep on that keeps her room so light, I can read books, so it's not even dark! I'm tired. Am I being tricked or is there something about this age I'm unaware of? I feel like we need her to cry it out again but she's at the age where it will go on & on, then a temper tantrum, her getting out of bed, peeing herself...on & on. We haven't slept one night through since August 23rd. If she could sleep fine through the night before, why are things different now?

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answers from Anchorage on

My son just went through this, and I had to be firm with him. We got him a nightlight, and explained that M. and daddy need sleep too, and than we had to get firm and simply tell him that nights are for sleeping, that he has to go to bed when it is bed time, one story only, and if he tried to manipulate us with tantrums he will stand with his nose in the corner until he is done and ready to follow the rules. He stopped. If he has the occasional night mare he knows he can come up, but we always put him right back to bed, no stories, just a hug and back to sleep. It sounds like she is manipulating you, and doing a very good job of it.

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answers from Austin on

Bless her heart.
She is not manipulating you.
She is not wetting the bed on purpose. She is only 3. Her body may not be totally ready to wake her when she needs to go.. Withholding liquids, does not make a difference either. Get her some bed pads for the nights she wets herself. Have extra undies, PJ's and sheets available and handy so they can all be changed quickly.. one night is your duty the next is your husbands so each of you is getting a full nights sleep every once in a while.. ..

Having nightmares and being afraid is very normal for a creative and intelligent child to frighten themselves.. Don't you sometimes, startle yourself or hear something at night and imagine things? You get that cold feeling and become almost paralyzing?

Help her find the tools to feel safe in her room..
My mother used to tell me if you roll over and face a different direction, your bad dreams will do away..
We used to have "Dream coins for our daughter. They look like regular quarters to me and you, but these coins are also talisman that will keep bad dreams away when placed under her pillow..

Also one mom here on mamapedia says she has "Monster spray". It is a squirt bottle filled with water, but when sprayed around the bed, under the bed in doorways around the windows.. It will keep all scary things away from your daughter.. It can be kept next to her bedside, so if she needs it she can spray it.

We always played nice music or had books on CD for our daughter to help sooth her..

I remember being completely exhausted and just wanting sleep, but your daughter really is frightened. She cannot help it.

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answers from Honolulu on

This is NORMAL... and a developmental phase. From even about 2 years old... they get 'fears'... which also includes fears of the night or fears of the dark. AND they also get Night-Mares.
Normal. And yes, they 'delay' things because they are scared.
A little child... is developing more and their minds... and we cannot 'stop' their imaginations....
And pee accidents, are normal. Accidents will happen and/or if there are stresses or anxiety or changes in their lives or household.

Do not punish for it. try to console her...

ALSO... night time dryness is a physiological development, NOT based on age... and night time dryness is something not even attained until 7 years old. It is about the biological development of their organs...
This is NORMAL and per Pediatricians as well.

Get a waterproof bed pad... and put it directly under her, to make clean up easier, for you.
I have 4 of them, that I rotate with my kids.... my kids being 4 and 7 years old. They have accidents too. No biggie.

My daughter was already 5 years old, wearing night time diapers... and then SHE was able to wear underwear at night. That is normal. EVEN though she was fully competent and daytime potty trained from 2 years old...

Your child is scared. In a little child's mind it is 'real.' To us Adults... it makes no sense... but they are a child. They have imaginations... and scolding or punishing will not turn off their minds.
They can get anxiety and stress from night time fears.
I remember that as a child, myself. My parents never battled me about it. They would let me sleep in their room with them. I grew out of it. No biggie. It is one of my FONDEST memories as a child, about my parents. I remember it... and how they handled me at night with my fears....

Your child, is tangibly scared at night. Battling it will not help. To me, the main thing is that she sleeps and gets sleep and does not get sleep deprived from it...that is worse for a child.
Maybe, let her sleep in your room, on a spot on the floor. That is what we do with our kids. Its fine. They grow out of it.
Sleep battles, are something a child WILL remember, when they look back on their childhood. I remember it... clearly. And I cherish my parents, for making it no big deal.... but for understanding me....

With my kids, we do the same. It is NOT permanent... and they will mature.....

all the best,

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answers from Portland on

I doubt that your daughter is trying to trick you, but she sure does sound tense and anxious and is casting about for any possible way to deal with her fear. I'm not sure from your request whether she's peeing while awake or asleep, but either way, it's most likely either a desperate ploy to keep you with her a little longer, or the natural outcome of tension, exhausted sleep, and possibly vivid dreams.

At your daughter's age, it's hard to separate reality from imagination, and it's entirely normal to develop new fears. The fever could have been a catalyst, since fevers can induce nightmares and hallucinations. I remember being terrified of the dark when I was quite young, and that seemed to follow a severe illness. My grandmother was sleeping with me, and she told me I sat up in bed, pointed out the upper-story window, and said, "Take those eggs away!" Nightmares lasted for quite a long time after.

Generally, the LEAST effective way to banish fear in a child is to try to convince her there's no reason for it. What works better is to empower the child to find ways to face the fear herself.

For awhile around your daughter's age, my grandson was afraid to go down a dark hallway to his room, because there was a cartoonish picture of a bear family hanging there in the gloom. So I asked him what things he could do about being afraid. He came up with a pretty impressive list of ways to empower himself, including carrying a flashlight, growling at the picture, getting an adult to accompany him, not looking at the picture, telling the bears to look the other way, or telling them to hold still until he passed. Funny, he never asked that the picture be taken down. But we supported his ideas, and he tried a number of them, and got through the scary period that lasted maybe three or four months.

Turns out, this is essentially the approach suggested in the very fine parenting book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Faber and Mazlish. The techniques and ideas are respectful to the needs of both adult and child, and they work without creating additional stress.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I wonder what else happened when she had the fever.
I wonder if she had scary dreams associated with the fever.
I wonder if that night, when she wet the bed,
the sensation or the surprise or the . . . . whatever
caused her to be afraid of falling asleep after that.
I'm guessing that whatever happened that night,
whatever combination of things,
caused her to be afraid this thing(s) might happen again.

Even if __you__ know that was a one-time occasion,
how would she know that?
It was, I presume, more than scary.

You are not being tricked.
I'm not sure what you should do next
but I felt strongly that you shouldn't be presuming
that she's "tricking" or manipulating you.

She's frightened and needs help beyond what you're providing for her in order to learn how not to be afraid of going to sleep.

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answers from Chicago on

M., I understand!
My 3 year old just had a fever too, on Saturday. That night he had several nightmares and woke up terrified of "monsters" and "holes". He said they were in his dreams. We turned on a flashlight, showed him there were no monsters, etc. Finally coaxed him back to sleep. It must be a stage some kids go through. I was going to suggest a night light, but it sounds like you have a bright light on. What about "monster spray" that you spray around the room to make it "safe"? That works sometimes with my son. I wish I had some suggestions, but I just wanted to let you know that we are struggling with this too right now. Hopefully it will get better for all of us. I have a 4 month old baby, so between the two, I am getting very little sleep these days and it's killing me...

Hugs to you-
Barefoot Books Ambassador

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answers from Sioux Falls on

I agree with Vicki E. limit the number of books, let her know in advance that there will only be 2 stories or 3 stories, whatever feels right to you. then no stories in the middle of the night. I would sit with her until she falls asleep and do this in the middle of the night as well but no stories, no talking or turning on any lights etc. Just sit quietly with your head down and eyes closed, maybe sitting on the floor near her bed or in a child sized chair near her bed. I would switch out the lamp for a night light. they have some cute ones at Target right now that are shaped like birds, bears or mushrooms and they are easy to turn on and give quite a bit of soft light. i would switch to pull ups while you are dealing with all of this and then work on getting rid of them once the night terror situation is resolved. I also agree with the idea for soft music playing that you could start up again when she wakes. I have three young children and have had every sleep issue known to man. It's not easy especially when you are exhasted. I have layed down with my kids, sat on their beds, played music, sat on the floor or a chair, stood outside the door where they could see me until they fell asleep, rocked them as babies in the middle of the night, sleep trained by crying it out, and end up with three kids in my bed at times. Hang in there.



answers from Rapid City on

You have some wonderful answers here. I would try a lot of them. I would like to suggest also setting up a video camera in her room and turn it on after she goes to sleep. You can see what is happening during the night, when she is waking up and how her reaction is. You could see if she is sleeping restlessly and if wetting the bed is what is waking her up. Watching videos or playing video games before bedtime can cause the mind to be really active during sleep so you might limit that kind of stuff in the evenings.



answers from Minneapolis on

I would limit the amount of books at bedtime and not read any to her if she get up at night, that just wakes you up more. You might try a night light or two instead of the lamp, it may be too bright to get a good night's sleep. We have our son's night light behind his hamper, gives the room a nice glow but not too bright were he has a hard time sleeping. Also try a soft music cd and just start that back up if she gets up at night. Might want to use night time pullups for now so you don't have to change sheets & pjs and she might do better at night with not worrying about having to go potty. Last thing to try is a rewards chart for staying in bed at night (if she gets up to go potty she goes right back to bed) and have a reward that she chooses at the end of the chart. Good luck.

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