The ages of two- and 3-years old is a time of substantial language growth and with that comes an expansion in imagination. Imaginative play helps our little ones learn about the complexity of everyday life and express feelings while in a safe, controlled environment; however, the trouble with toddlers is their imagination can sometimes run away with them at night, especially when they are trying to avoid going to bed!
So, how do we tackle the problem of our toddler saying, “I’m scared! There’s a monster in my room!”? The answer may seem all too simple to be true: We engage them in more imaginative play!
Just like when your little one is learning to master a physical skill that may interfere with sleep, for example rolling, crawling, walking, etc., we need to engage our toddler in the practice of their cognitive skills during the day so their little brains have had enough practice where it doesn’t keep them up all night! Let me give you an example:
My son is on the cusp of turning 3 years old. He has never had a fear of the dark or even monsters until about a month ago when he suddenly began to cry at bedtime and say, “I”m scared”. Instead of ignoring his verbalized fears, we chose to acknowledge his fear and pretend play in how we would handle a monster if there was indeed a monster in the room. Sometimes we would fight the monster, other times we would tickle the monster, and sometimes we would give the monster a bathe so he wasn’t so stinky and scary. Through pretend play we were able to help our son process his emotions and role play how to handle novel situations that may be stressful. Our son is now fully engrossed in the monster world and enjoys pretending each night different scenarios with the various monsters that visit our home. The Love Monster by Rachel Bright has also become one of our favorite nightly books to read.
One of my favorite tricks is making “monster spray”! Have your toddler help you decorate a spray bottle, add your monster mix to the bottle, i.e. water and essential oils, and as a part of the bedtime routine, you spray the monster spray around the room, under the bed, in the closet, ect. to make the monsters disappear! Toddlers love to be involved so the more you have them help, the more invested they will be in the using the monster spray, quickly turning a bedtime fear into something positive and fun!
The benefits of imaginative play go far beyond that of improving your ability to get your toddler to bed at night. Imaginative play can:
Enhance emotional development
Boost expressive and comprehensive language skills
Build self confidence and expression
Increase problem solving abilities, which is linked to increased academic readiness
Strengthen independence and life skills
Improve social relationships
So, the next time your toddler says “I’m scared of the monster in my room!”, acknowledge their fear, jump into their imaginative world, and enjoy getting to see the workings of your toddler’s inner mind!
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