Many kids are afraid of the dark – whether it be from watching a movie, monster in the closet or a boogeyman under the bend…here are some tips on how to conquer those fears and why millions of kids feel that it is so real to be afraid of the dark.
Fear is a normal part of life for all of us, including our children. It tends to start when you try something new, something that you’ve never experienced before, something that is an unknown.
For small kids, especially toddlers, this happens almost every day, so fear has a lot of opportunity to pop up – especially at night. It tends to be that ‘the fear of the dark’ begins when children are old enough to have a sense of imagination and around 2 or 3-years-old. Kids at this age are old enough to imagine, but sometimes not able to decipher between real and pretend, which can then turn to “scary.” This fear suddenly becomes ‘real life’ when a shadow in the dark can get very scary!
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Why Fear of the Dark? Where does it come from?
Some of the worst offenders of ‘fear of the dark’ is the TV! Many parents don’t recognize how the TV affects their children, especially parents who tend to use the TV as a form of babysitting when they are busy. If you do not regulate what shows they watch or what time of day in the child’s sleep pattern, it can be very stimulating and expose your kid to things that might seem scary. Another common reason is younger siblings watch TV with their older sibling and it might not be age-appropriate, such as a scary cartoon.
Another root to the fear can actually be books! Yes, the age old books. Images can be intimidating and provoke a child’s imaginations depending on the content. For example, a drawing of a monster in a fairy tale book or witches from a Halloween book.
A last reason of these fears can come from older siblings or even parents where someone might say to your toddler, “You better brush your teeth or the boogeyman fairy might get you!” Although it is intended as a joke, these simple light-hearted phrases can be a reason by a nighttime fear or nightmare.
Dos and Don’ts
- Communicate, be respectful, and show that you understand your child. Don’t tell them their fear is silly, because not only does it not help and they’re still scared, but now they feel guilty and ashamed of their fear.
- Ask your child what he or she feels when he or she is alone in the dark. Even if your kid’s apprehension seems ridiculous to you, reassure him/her with concrete information. For example, say, “You’re right that the house makes funny sounds at night. Let’s listen to them together, and I’ll tell you what each one is.”
- Teach your child to calm himself by saying, “I’m safe in the dark; my mom and dad are nearby” or “That sound was just the heat coming on.”
- Gradually decrease the light in the room, starting with a lower-watt bulb in his lamp, then leaving a light on only in the hallway. Offer praise each time he goes to sleep with less light.
- Help your child avoid scary TV shows and movies, since nighttime fears can be greatly intensified by what a child is exposed to during the day.
- Reassure your child that his fear of the dark is normal.
- Arm your child with comfort items, whether it’s a blanket, a stuffed animal, or a night-light, to help her sleep soundly.
- Do sleepovers. Although it may be tempting to let your little one crawl into bed with you, resist the urge.
- Say to your child, ‘Let me make sure there aren’t any monsters under the bed.