Most of us have had this experience: night falls, the lights go out, and panic sets in. Being scared when you can't see your surroundings is a pretty common fear. But as you and your child are best rested when the room is dark, conquering the anxiety that comes with bedtime will go a long way to a happy and healthy routine. We've put together some tips for working through your child's fear of the dark.
There's Nothing to be Ashamed OfNyctophobia - fear of the dark - is experienced by about half of all children. Many of their friends may even have had the very same fear. So when you discover that your child panics when you shut their bedroom door, be their biggest supporters and let them know they are not alone.
Acknowledge Their Fear
It's the worst feeling when you tell someone you trust how you feel, only to have them dismiss it, or invalidate it. If your child admits to you they are afraid of the dark, empathize with them and show them you care. Sit with the child and have them talk about what being scared of the dark means.
Find Out if There's Another Cause
Have they recently watched a scary movie? Did their friend tell them a story, and their imagination has been in overdrive ever since? Or maybe the idea of being by themselves in a dark room gives them anxiety. Whatever the reason for their fear, work through it with the child at their own pace. Set goals together, and maybe have them earn a small reward for meeting those goals.
Monsters Aren't Real
That outfit laid out for the next day can look a lot like a terrifying snake once the lights go out. Show your child that the shapes of everyday objects are nothing to be afraid of in the dark. If he is scared of what might be lurking under the bed, grab a flashlight to show them it's safe, and nothing is waiting there to grab their ankles.
Things That Go Bump in the Night
Regular sounds of the house settling, the fridge compressor cycling on, or the radiator knocking might trigger your child's fears. If they bring it up, explain to them that these sounds are normal parts of homes, and are very often the same sounds heard during the day.
Make Bedtime Fun and Soothing
When getting ready for bed is a positive experience, your child will be less likely to fear the dark. Give yourselves ample time to prepare for lights out. Treat it as a ritual: taking a bath, getting into pajamas, brushing teeth, combing hair, tucking them into bed, and reading a bedtime story. Ask them about their day. This gives them the chance to express themselves, and shift the focus to subjects that will help them fall asleep.
If you have a pet, consider letting your child sleep with them until the fear of the dark is conquered. If your pet is seen as a protector by the child, they may have an easier time falling asleep next to your cat or dog. Another option is to have a stuffed animal or doll to cuddle with.
Wean Your Child Off the Light
Leave the hall light on and the door open, closing it a bit more each night. If your child's room has a dimming light, you can start lowering it every day until you are able to turn it all the way off.
Get a Night Light
If your child isn’t quite ready for a completely dark room, a nightlight can be a great tool to give them a sense of safety when you leave their room.
Encouraging open communication, fostering a safe environment, and introducing positive associations with darkness can go a long way in transforming your child's fear into a sense of security. As you guide them through conquering this hurdle, you not only enhance their overall well-being but also equip them with valuable life skills that will serve them in facing challenges with courage and resilience.