Fear of the dark

Why are some children afraid of the dark and not others?

Children with vivid imaginations or children who are emotionally very sensitive can often resist going to sleep due to being scared of something .There are also developmental reasons:

  • 2-3 years of age – Children are starting to engage in imaginary play but find it difficult to distinguish reality from fantasy.
  • 4-6 years of age – Children’s imagination and imaginary thinking deepen which can lead to fears arising.
  • 7 years plus – Children understand cause and effect so, for example, someone is late, therefore this must mean something bad has happened.

What happens?

At night time, there are no distractions so children start to create their own thoughts and ideas to ‘fill in the gaps’.

What you can do?

  • Be reassuring and sensitive, but practical and firm.
  • Ask your child if you can get in to their bed with them and see if, together, there is anything which seems frightening about the room. Try and see the room through their eyes.
  • Ask what you think you could do to make everything feel safer and nicer. Solve the problem together.
  • Perhaps give your child a torch to have in bed so if they are worried in the night they can turn it on and see everything is fine. Alternatively, use a dimmer light/night light.
  • Do not affirm or agree with your child’s beliefs – for example, by saying you can make the monster go away, you are affirming that it actually exists.
  • Reflect back the feelings they are expressing. For example, “I can hear you are saying you feel scared, but I am here and it is my job to keep you safe”.
  • Think how it must feel to be your child. Try to visualise stepping into their shoes and becoming them. What would you need?
  • Consider which television programs they are watching & what games they are playing. For children who are afraid of the dark, you may need to help them to avoid certain images as they can have a powerful effect on sensitive children.
  • See if your child would like to rearrange their room at all so it feels better.
  • Make sure bedtime stories are positive without too much adventure or mystery.
  • Still be firm and consistent that it is bedtime and you expect them to go to sleep.
  • Don’t use threats such as “you have to behave or the monster will come”.
  • Respect and acknowledge your child’s fears. We all have fears and worries, even as adults and we need to be listened to and reassured rather than told “we are being silly”.
  • Realise that just because the thing your child fears is not real, this doesn’t take away the fact the fear is real.
  • Keep calm and sensitive but don’t exaggerate or affirm their fears.
  • Give them a comforter or special bedtime toy. For example, “Build a Bear” visits and buying a Bedtime Bear seem to work really well!
  • Be firm in reminding your child it is bedtime and that they need to go to sleep. Ask them if they would like you to check in on them again in 5, 10 or 30 minutes and make sure you then do!
  • Make dens in the day so your child develops positive experiences associated with the dark. You could even use a fun game like a “dark treasure hunt”.
  • Use positive reinforcement – “Well done for staying in your bed”.

For more information and to get help with this problem, please contact me.