Fear is a normal part of life and kids are no exception. It is not uncommon for kids to fear dark, especially so if they sleep alone in the room. Let us try to understand why kids have this fear, where does it come from and what to do about it.
Why Do Kids Fear Dark?
Kids normally start fearing dark or nighttime when they become old enough to imagine things but not intelligent enough to separate reality from imagination. This happens when they are 2-3 years old. The fears might vary from one child to another – some might fear monsters lurking in the dark, some might imagine a stranger like a thief who is waiting in the dark to harm them and some might just imagine big insects or animals.
Now not only are they too small to realize monsters are not real or there are no strangers hiding under the bed, their minds are so blank that they cannot preoccupy or distract themselves (like we adults do) to take their minds off their fears. These fears emerge every day and night times turn scary. A child’s mind does not have a lot of distractions, and the fear just keeps on looming around.
What Causes The Fear Of Dark In Children?
There are many influencers for this fear, and we have enlisted the top 3 originators:
- TV is number one culprit Your child might be watching something completely age inappropriate, even if you play only cartoon channels. Strange looking animals, shadow play and other things in TV might look cute to you, but it might be scary for your child
- Books are another reason While reading to your children are one of the best things you can do for them, books ignite imagination. Many children stories talk about monsters and other mythical bad characters. All this come to haunt the child lying in the dark trying to sleep
- Parents and the stories they tell are another culprit. Many parents try to instill fear in their children with “boogeyman” kind of stories (e.g.: “eat this fast, else boogeyman will come and catch you”). This comes back to terrify the child when she is sleeping
Top 10 Tips To Help Your Child Overcome The Fear Of Dark
- Listen to them: Do not dismiss your child’s fears as silly. Do not ridicule them. You have to listen to them and try to identify the source of the fear. Ensure that you empathize with them and not make fun of the fear
- Don’t support the imaginary fear: Do not feed the fear. If you tell your monster-fearing child that “do not worry, I will kill the monster if he comes to you”, then it will reinforce your child’s belief that the monster exists. This will not provide a sustainable solution to the fear, and in fact will aggravate it
- Reassure your child of safety: Tell your child that she is absolutely safe in the house and that you are in the next room if she needs you. Emphasize that there are no monsters or strange animals or people in the dark. Check under the bed and behind the cupboard in front of them to reassure them of this. You can also let them check with you
- Ensure they are not overexposed to TV or scary stories: As we mentioned before, these are the major culprits that make their little minds go on an over-imaginative run. Ensure that they are not watching too much TV throughout the day. Also avoid scary story books. There are many fun, light books that still make awesome reads. Stick to them
- Think of installing a night light: You can leave a dim night light on if it makes your child feel more secure. However, do not keep the main lights on as the child will grow up not being able to sleep in the dark
- Think of giving a security object to the child: Arm your child with a security object that she might find comforting. This could be a soft teddy or a blanket. Many kids sleep soundly as long as they can clutch on to their security objects
- Put yourself in child’s shoes: It is easy to feel irritated and impatient when your child complains of monsters repeatedly despite you having told her they are not real. Think of it from her point of view. Getting frustrated just because you are old enough to know that the monster is not there will not help. The monster may be imagination, but the fear is real. Remember how it was when you were a kid. These fears are not easily wiped off. So do not expect an instant solution
- Empower your child: You can tell your child she can ask for help if she is scared. For instance, you can tell her you would come and check on her every 30 minutes if she is alone in the room to check if she is okay. That said, if she sleeps on her own in a nursery, then do not feel compelled to co-sleep to soothe her fears. This would soon become a habit and she won’t be able to fall asleep on her own
- Make bedtime routine happy, funny and light: Make the last 30-60 minutes of your child’s day as relaxing as possible. As mentioned before, do not let her watch TV or do not read out scary stories. Make it fun and short, emphasizing on one on one interactions
- Get help: If you think that your child’s fears and anxiety are getting increasingly worse, then you can talk to your child’s pediatrician to help in identifying the child’s trauma and suggest ways to calm her
Parents need to work on building up on the child’s self-confidence and coping skills, aimed at increasing the confidence of the child. Parents also need to devise a positive enforcement and a reward program. However, if the fear go worse or are a result of some traumatic experience, it would be wise to consult the doctors.