Kids Fear of the dark

Nov 02, 2012 No Comments by

‘Our son never had a going to bed problem, but now he tells us that he’s afraid to go to bed in the dark. What can I do?’

Your impulse may be to try to tease (‘Silly, there’s nothing to be afraid of’) or shame (‘Only babies are afraid of the dark’) your child out of his fear; to force him to face it (‘Now, I want you to be brave and stay in your dark room’); or even to use logic (‘See there’s nothing in your room that’s scary, even when we turn off the lights’). But such approaches almost never help a child overcome fear. If anything, they make him more fearful. And by belittling his fears, they can also wound his self-esteem.

toddler and fear

toddler and fear

Instead, to help your toddler come to terms with his fear of the dark, and ultimately, to conquer it:

  1. Let there be empathy. It’s often hard for a parent to relate to a fear of the dark – or any other seemingly irrational fear. But it’s important to acknowledge and accept your child’s fear. When a child feels his fears are given credence, it makes it easier to confront them. Instead of saying, ‘You’re a big boy – big boys aren’t afraid of the dark,’ say, ‘Sometimes the dark does seem scary.’ Get him to talk about his feelings about the dark, and listen without judging.
  2. Let there be a search. Imagination is going full steam at this age. If your toddler keeps talking about the dragons under the bed or the monster in the wardrobe, doing thorough search before bedtime may help. Or it may not. The imagination is often more powerful than reason, especially in young sets loudly and dramatically (‘Any monsters thinking of coming into this house, STAY AWAY. We will not let you come in.’)This that you are in control of the house, even when everyone’s sleep.
  3. Let there be a sentry to stand guard. You can’t – and shouldn’t – always be there when fear of the dark strikes. So appoint a sentry to stand in for you – a courageous teddy bear or doll, for instance. Make much of this sentry’s ability to protect little children. (‘I know there are no monsters in this room, but if they were, Teddy would take care of you’). Some children are helped by reciting a ‘magical’ sentence or rhyme (‘Monsters, monsters go away; don’t come back another day’) and keeping a flashlight, ‘lucky charm’, and/or a special toy at bedside.
  4. Let there be comfort. From time to time, every fearful child needs a mummy or daddy to hide behind. In the right doses, comfort makes children stronger, not weaker. When your child is afraid, provide some extra reassurance – as well as some cuddling and a hug or two. When you leave the room, stay within earshot if possible (the dark is less frightening to young children if they hear their parents puttering around) your toddler is asleep
  5. … but don’t overdo it. Making too much of the fear can have a negative effect. It can lead a child to believe that there really is something to worry about, or teach him to use his fears to pull your strings (‘If you read me or one more story, I won’t be scared of the dark’). Who would want to give up a behaviour that nets a lot of attention and extra privileges? Comment little of his fears, but when he shows a bit of bravery, make much of it.
  6. Put on a brave show. Children ‘catch’ attitudes from their parents. When their parents seem comfortable in the dark, child’s fears, don’t feed them. Talk about the dark as a nice, comforting place. Explain to him that his room is just the same in the dark as it is with the light on.
  7. Let there be pleasant experiences. Help your toddler to think of his room as a safe haven – never banish him there for time-outs or as a punishment. Also help him to associate the dark with good blessings. When you respond to his calls in the middle of the night, comfort him without turning the light on. In the evening, try turning off the lights in the living room while everyone is holding hands and singing happy songs or listening to a CD. Or lying in his bed in the dark with your toddler, take turns closing your eyes and trying to imagine favourite things (an ice cream cone, the beach, Grandma’s hug), Or roll a glow in the dark ball (or one make with fluorescent tape) into your child’s darkened room and have each family member take a turn at chasing after and retrieving it. (Be sure there is ample room to prevent collisions.) Don’t force your toddler to participate in any of these activities, but if you make it fun he may just want to. It may also help to talk about your child’s fear of the dark in the light and to read books about children who overcome such a fear.
  8. Don’t let there be frightening experiences. Scary movies, violent television shows, spooky books can all fire up a child’s imagination once he’s under the covers. Ban those that you fear can stimulate fear. Also avoid such threats as, ‘If you’re not good, the monster will get you,’ and harsh punishment or the threat of them. Of course, sometimes children are exposed to scary incidents in real life – as observer or participants – so we can’t banish all frightening experiences. But we can minimize them and, afterwards, try to be reassuring.

After The Baby Is Born, The Toddlers Year
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