Most kids experience some degree of nighttime worries. What do you do if your child’s fear of the dark doesn’t seem to get better? Here’s how parents can help their kids overcome their nighttime fears.
I’m not sure what caused my kid’s fears of the dark, but both of them have experienced this at one time or another.
My daughter started speaking up about this fear when she was three years old. All of sudden it was harder to get her to go to bed. My “easy” child at night suddenly became very scared of various things she was afraid were lurking in her room.
“The fear of the dark tends to evolve around the time children are old enough to have a sense of imagination,” says Jenn Berman, PhD, a family therapist in Beverly Hills, California.
Usually, the fear of the dark hits home for kids around the ages of 2 or 3, when they’re old enough to imagine, but not wise enough to distinguish fantasy from reality, Berman says. This totally resonates with me.
So what causes a child’s fear of the dark? Berman speculates that TV is the worst offender. “Parents don’t recognize how much TV can affect their children,” she says. “Most parents don’t limit what their kids are watching on TV…For instance, a young child, in a room watching TV with an older sibling, might be watching something totally age-inappropriate.”
Even though I do limit what my kids watch on TV, I still acknowledge that what I deem as innocent can go over their heads and – mixed with their imagination – become something scary when they are laying in the dark at bedtime.
Fear of the dark: do’s and don’ts
- Do communicate with them from the very beginning about the dark and their fears. Don’t say that their fears are silly, or shrug it off if it seems to really be bothering your child.
- Do stay calm. I know this is a hard one, especially when you’re exhausted and ready to clock out. Don’t get frustrated. When we’re upset, we tend to say things without fully thinking them through. Don’t tell your children to get over it, or that their fear is silly. To them it’s very real.
- Don’t do sleepovers. Well, shoot…I know I’m guilty of this! When my kids get whiny at night, sometimes I have suggested that they spend the night together so that they can help each other out. Jenn Berman continues, “You still have to keep the boundaries that work for you and give your child the tools to cope with her fear,” Berman says. And that goes for siblings, too. “It’s not your other child’s job to take care of his sibling,” Berman tells WebMD. “It’s your job as a parent, so trying to solve the problem by doing sleepovers in a sibling’s room isn’t the answer.”
- Don’t play into their fear of the dark. When my daughter was smaller, she woke up yelling in the night because a monkey was in her room. Next it was a bush…then it was a crab. Various things popped up in her dreams, and so those things became what she would fear at night. Don’t tell your child that you will check to make sure the boogey man isn’t under his bed. By saying that, you’re admitting that there is a chance that he was there to begin with.
When my daughter would fear these various things at night, I used to “check” for those things at night. I would tell her, “it’s ok, there are no bushes in your room. No monkeys. Everything is ok.” I’m not sure where that falls into “playing into” her fears. It seemed to help, though.
Another thing I started to do to ease her anxiety was to count down before I would turn the lights off. Our routine consisted of: reading a book, singing a few songs, and then counting to three before I turned off her light. This gave her a few seconds to wrap her head around what was about to happen.
I also set up a night light in our hallway bathroom. I left her door open so that she could see the bathroom at night, and knew that everything was ok.
Most doctors will tell you that these fears are totally normal, and age appropriate. With the help of a parent, most children can work through these fears in a few weeks. If you find that your child’s fears are intensifying, it might be worth a more in-depth conversation with your pediatrician.
I hope you found this post helpful! Leave me a comment and let me know what you thought!