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Fear of the Dark, What You Can Do

Posted by Daniel Lau on
Fear of the Dark, What You Can Do

There are few things as entertaining as watching a child engaged in play, they really are a delight to observe. Dolls and teddy bears can share their secrets and offer comfort. Imaginary cups of tea are brewed and cakes appear from fresh air. Children suddenly turn into “baby kittens” or tell you about their friend in the garden. Imagination is a crucial part of your child’s development which helps them to make sense of the world and also encourages them to explore their surroundings. Research shows that imaginative play increases children’s intellectual suppleness, making them able to cope with life by teaching them flexibility and creative problem solving skills. On the flip side, their vivid imaginations can also cause fears and worries that may sometimes seem slightly irrational to adults, but if you think back to your childhood, you might remember something like one of the following: 

  • Fear of falling into the toilet or being flushed down the toilet.
  • Fear of loud noises
  • Fear of storms
  • Fear of doctors or injections
  • Fear of being left alone
  • Fear of animals or spiders
  • Fear of bad people
  • Fear of shadows
  • Fear of the dark or sleeping alone
  • Fear of monsters

In today’s post we are going to address fears that relate to bedtime. If your child is afraid of the dark or does not want to sleep alone then we have some suggestions to help you get through this stage of development as quickly as possible.  If your child starts to express they are afraid to sleep alone, the first thing you need to do is identify the cause of the fear. Helping your child to name the fear is the first step to overcoming your kids sleeping problems.

Here are some tips for dealing specific bedtime fears:

Fear of the Dark:

Most parents’ first reaction to a child who is afraid of the dark is to purchase a night light or leave a passage light on. This is usually counter-productive as most night lights and lighting in the home make use of blue wavelength lights. Research shows that artificial lights interfere with melatonin production which is the hormone responsible for inducing sleep. A night light is not a complete no-no but they need to emit red or amber wavelength light. Long wavelength night lights are an ideal choice of night light for a toddler afraid of the dark. Some experts suggest that you give your child a flashlight but again remember that most light sources emit blue light and will be stimulating as they shut down melatonin production. Glow in the dark stars or animals on the ceiling can also give your child something to focus on when lying in the dark but fade pretty quickly which helps a scared child drift off to sleep. Unfortunately this won’t help with fear when your child wakes during the night. Try doing fun activities in the dark in order to give the dark some positive connotations. Fill Water bottles with water and add glow sticks for a game of glow in the dark bowling in the living room, or hide stars for a glow in the dark treasure hunt. Try adding colored glow sticks to the bath. Poke holes onto black paper and attach to a torch, then turn the lights down and light up the ceiling with stars. Find a moon phase calendar and track the moon. Sit and watch a full moon rise through the window with the lights out.  Obviously these are best done on weekends when routines are more relaxed. Try reading The Owl Who was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson or Cant You Sleep Little Bear by Martin Waddell. Both turn the dark into something positive.

Fear of being alone:

Your child may be afraid to go to the bathroom or to be left in the bedroom alone. There is a fine line between treating this fear with empathy and feeding it. We don’t want to raise fearful children. Start to tackle this fear every time it crops up, quickly and effectively nipping it in the bud. If your child tells you they are scared of an empty room that they need to be in, confidently walk in and check in cupboards, under beds and behind curtains. Then tell your child that there is nothing scary in the room but you will wait for them at the door. Increase that distance slowly moving into the passage or into the kitchen. Keep talking so they can hear your voice.

Fear of Ghosts, Monsters or Bad Guys:

In some ways it may be easier to deal with this in younger children although often no amount of reasoning with your child that monsters aren’t real will convince them. A mother of a three year old girl that I know realized this and told her daughter that she was told to look for those naughty monsters and chase them back to their mommies. She would look under beds, and make it an adventure. The little girl found it funny and empowering. An internet search will give hundreds of results for ‘Monster Spray’. You can either buy it or make it yourself. All you need is a spray bottle which you fill with water and a few drops of Lavender oil. Add food coloring and glitter if you like. Not only does this combination empower your child, lavender oil has been shown to induce sleep. Other oils indicated for fear and anxiety include Bergamot, Chamomile, Rose and Frankincense. Be very aware of what your child is watching on TV or reading in books and if you can make any connections between something he has seen and a new fear. Approach your Childs teacher or caregiver; they may know where this fear has stemmed from. Perhaps one of the other children has spoken about monsters but even if they haven’t, she may be able to incorporate a book and discussion for dealing with these fears into the day. Two book recommendations for this are The Monster Who Ate the Darkness by Joyce Dunbar and Bella and Monty, A Hairy, Scary Night by Alex T Smith.  For older children with a fear of bad people, you will need to talk about steps you can take to keep safe. Do this in a calm, matter of fact way. Once again, don’ feed the fear.

As with all children’s behavior, remember positive reinforcement. Notice and praise courage and bravery but choose not to feed fear. This doesn’t mean you should dismiss or ridicule their fears. Rather find a way to overcome them. Remember this is a normal part of healthy development. With fears conquered, your kids sleep should soon be back on track.

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