Is your child scared of the dark? Here’s how to help them
Being scared of the dark is common in children, and usually starts in the toddler years. Instead of trying to ignore their fear or play it down, it’s better to hear them out and help them overcome it so that they’re more confident and able to face other fears in the future.
A child might be scared of the dark because they literally aren’t able to see everything around them (and fear of the unknown) or they might have heard a scary story, saw something disturbing on TV, or been through a change or something difficult that has triggered the phobia. Aside from distress and insecurity, fear of the dark could cause bedtime issues (not wanting to go to sleep or wanting to co-sleep with parents or a sibling), or nighttime wake-ups.
Here are tips to help your child with their fear:
Listen, and take their fear seriously
Encourage your child to talk about how they’re feeling and what’s making them afraid. Sometimes it can be an easy solution – for example if your child is scared of an intruder, you can show them all the steps you take to keep your home safe, for example locking doors and setting an alarm.
Sometimes your child might be afraid of things such as you dying, and being in the dark compounds this anxiety. By talking and listening, you can try to understand the source of their fear.
It’s important to not dismiss or make fun of their fear.
It’s better to say: “I can see you’re really scared” rather than “Don’t be silly – there’s nothing to be scared of”.
Show empathy and understanding rather than undermining your child’s fear. Even if you can show them that no monsters live under the bed or in their cupboard, it doesn’t mean that their fear will go away (also, by looking for monsters, you might be sending a message to your child that monsters do exist – just not in your home).
Try to remember when you were a child, how it felt when you were scared of something, and how difficult it was to try and rationalize your fear (even as adults this is sometimes difficult).
Establish a good bedtime routine
A bedtime routine creates comfort and security and can help to reduce your child’s anxiety. Make sure it’s an enjoyable routine for your child – from a fun bath to a good bedtime story (your child can help give input on this). There are some great books about kids tackling nighttime fears – you can search for these online or you can ask your bookshop for recommendations.
Avoid anything that could trigger their fear before bed such as a scary show or book, or any news.
Let your child sleep with their favorite comfort toy or taglet, put on a night light or glow light, or keep the door open and allow light in from the passage.
Ensure that your child feels comfortable in their room and that there isn’t anything that scares them such as an open window or scary shadows. If your child can’t fall asleep or can’t go back to sleep, stay with them until they fall asleep. You could also leave them and tell them you’ll check up on them every five minutes (just make sure you follow through). Try not to take them to your bed every night as this might become a habit that’s hard to break.
Reinforce positive behavior
Reward positive sleep behavior or progress by using a star chart or other rewards system. You can reward for small yet “big” steps such as switching off their night light in the morning, or talking about and being willing to face their fears.
Note: If your child’s fear of the dark is causing lots of sleep issues or having an effect on their behavior during the day, it might be worthwhile to chat to a play therapist or child psychologist to help tackle their phobia.
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