In daylight, your child's imagination is a blessing. It's a different story when darkness falls and he begins imagining all manner of monsters lurking in his room. Nighttime fears are common in young children, and one small night-light could be all your little one needs to feel secure. As long as you're mindful of safety, installing a night-light should help everyone sleep soundly.
Your newborn won't suffer if there's no night-light in his room when he comes home from the hospital, and some kids sleep peacefully in pitch-dark forever. Still, as long as the light doesn't disrupt your child's sleep, there's no harm in giving him one, says sleep expert Dr. Jodi Mindell, writing for the National Sleep Foundation. When to introduce a night-light, if at all, is totally up to you. Fear of darkness often begins in toddlerhood or preschool, so if your child starts having anxiety about bedtime during these years, a night-light might ease his nerves. It has benefits for you, too, since it offers enough illumination for you to see your sleeping child during late-night checks without requiring you to turn on the overhead light. And if your child's path to the bathroom is pitch-dark when everyone's asleep, placing a night-light in the hallway can keep him from losing his way.
Choosing a Night-Light
If your child is old enough to have an opinion about his night-light, ask him. Allow a nervous child to help pick out his light and get him excited about it. Say something like, "The bunny light helps you see when you wake up, so you'll know that you're safe in your room." If your child is school age, be mindful of the fact that he might be embarrassed to need a night-light in front of friends. Look for a bedside night-light instead of the type that plugs into an outlet. A child who is toddler age or older might also benefit from sleeping with a combination stuffed animal and night-light, but since these toys typically turn off after a set period of time, your child needs to know how to turn it back on if he wakes during the night.
A night-light can make a major difference in your child's life, but it's not without some risks. A hot bulb could cause bedding and draperies to catch on fire, points out the American Academy of Pediatrics, so buy cool-touch lights. Even a cool light poses a risk to an unsupervised little one. If he's still in a crib, install the light at an outlet he can't reach from his bed. Teach an older child that a night-light is not a toy and that only an adult should handle it. Install child-safe, slide-shut outlet covers where you're plugging in the night-light; if your child pulls it free, he won't be able to stick anything into the open socket. If you're using a bedside light, run the cord down behind the table so your child can't pull the device down onto himself.
Even with a comforting light illuminating his room, your child's nighttime anxieties might linger. Get to the root of the issue to find a solution. If your child becomes increasingly upset or defiant as bedtime nears, ask questions like, "What do you think could happen when you're alone in your bed?" Don't encourage your child's unfounded fears, suggests the Cleveland Clinic; if your child fears monsters, explain there are no monsters, rather than promising to scare them away. Checking on your child every five or 10 minutes at the beginning of the night might also help, since he'll be reassured of your presence every time the door creaks open. If he wakes with nightmares, sit with him until he dozes off. Allowing him into your bed could begin a pattern that's tough to break. Call his pediatrician if sleep problems disrupt his life or follow a traumatic incident.