Did you know that being afraid of the dark is a normal occurrence for little kids? Just when you think you are past all the night time feedings and getting up at 2:00 AM, there are other things that come along and cause us sleepless nights. Now, instead of getting up several times a night for feedings and changings, it seems you may never get to bed in the first place because your little one is afraid to sleep alone in the dark. What causes this? And what should you do when children are afraid of the dark?
There is no one definitive cause of children being afraid of the dark; however, it is certain this is a normal phenomenon. One common link seems to be that fear of the dark develops somewhere around the age of two, and this is also the time when young children begin to use their imagination. Children have expansive imaginations and can concoct all sorts of make-believe scenarios during their play activities. Unfortunately, these same children do not yet have the reasoning skills to distinguish between fantasy and reality. As a result, all those dragons, monsters, caves and space creatures could be lurking in their room for all they know. Another factor could be outside stressors that cause a child to be apprehensive. Even if they don’t realize it, a death, divorce, changes in day care or school and other life changes are stressful to a child. The key thing to realize is that no matter what causes a child to be afraid of the dark really doesn’t matter. What matters is that to them, the fear is real and should be treated as such by the adults around them.
Dealing with Fear
Dealing with fear is about empowerment. The same is true for children that are afraid of the dark. Nothing will make the fear go away, but you can give your child the tools to deal with the fear. First of all, acknowledge the fear exists. In vocabulary that is age appropriate, ask what exactly they are afraid of happening in the dark, and explain to your child that while the fear they feel is real, what they are afraid of isn’t. Assure them that they are safe and secure, and you will be just a few rooms away to protect them. Do not belittle or make insignificant their fear. Let them know that fear is OK, but what they are afraid of doesn’t exist. Some items that may help a child can also be added to the room. Things like a night light, a personal flashlight, or a comfort items such as a stuffed animal or a blanket can help a child feel like they are in control and can handle their fear. Also, avoid television before bedtime, especially violent or aggressive programming that may increase their fear. In addition, have a soothing, relaxing night time routine that reassures that child that all is well.
When children are afraid of the dark a parent can feel helpless, but with some discussion and some planning, you can help them deal with their fear and feel secure.