How to Help a Child Who is Afraid of the Dark
Parents quickly come to the realization that their job does not end when the lights go out. Newborns may sleep soundly for the first few days, but as babies grow and start adjusting to their surroundings, night time feedings and play time become common place for many families. As babies grow into toddlers and preschoolers and beyond, the dark can have quite an effect on little ones.
The Fear is Real
Children who are afraid of the dark are experiencing a real fear. It may seem irrational to a parent, or hard to understand, but when a child feels afraid, it is a signal worth listening to. A parent's role is to help the child feel safe and to many children, even some adults, the unknown that persists in the dark does not create a sense of safety. At the same time, there are some children who seem to not be phased by the dark and it makes sense to explore what it is about these children that may be different from the general crowd who feels a bit (or more) of discomfort when the light is switched off.
Why some are afraid and some are not
If one were to ask a child what is scary about the dark, many would answer with something to the effect of, "I can't see, I'm not sure what's there, or there could be monsters." For the child who does not find the dark scary, it is just as valuable to ask what his or her thoughts are about the dark. The answers usually received are more factual and simple, such as "It means it's night time, the stars come out, the lights are off and the sun goes down". It can be helpful to notice the difference in the way the two children are thinking about the dark. The feeling beneath the thoughts is often driving the fear and that deserves attention.
The Parent's Influence
To dissolve fear in a child, parents may benefit from looking at fear within themselves. If the parent is afraid, the child feels that and often takes it on. This is not to blame the parent, just to point out that even when children are pre-verbal, they pick up on what their parent perceives of the world. Adult concerns about the dark are much broader and deeply entrenched. The dark for people who've lived a couple (or few) decades can equate to crime, lack of sleep, relationship concerns, and much more. The tips suggested can create a healthy feeling about the dark for adults and children alike, making bedtime more enjoyable for everyone!
- Consider allowing your child to sleep near you, if he or she does not already. A safe place in or near the parent's bed can easily be set up and the child will feel safe in the presence of his or her parents. Don't worry, the child won't be slapping the keys on the night stand at age 16 after a night out. They're only little for a while.
- Allow a closet light, night light, or flash light to remain on (even if the child is in your room).
- Play in the dark. Use flash lights or candles and experiment with making the dark a safe place to be. A fun, new resource for play designed specifically to help children with fears of the dark may be worth checking out: The Shrunks.
- If you feel afraid of the dark, think about why and brainstorm ways to feel safer. Do you keep your house lit enough so you feel the comfort of knowing where you are going at night or do you keep the lights off just because? The cost of leaving one light on is hardly anything in comparison to the peace of mind it may bring.
- The dark often represents negative feelings such as anger, sadness, and fear. It can be a good opportunity to look at any unresolved feelings in this area of life and allow them to be heard.
Fear is a real emotional signal that people feel and it can have a great effect on their life. Adults and children alike deserve to live life free from fears, especially those that limit their enjoyment of life. It is never too late to bridge a gap between fear and complete understanding and once fear is released, the way is paved for a whole lot of fun, which both parent and child will benefit from.
Peace 4 Parents
Amy Phoenix (aka Rainbow Recognizer) is a gentle, yet direct parenting guide and healing facilitator dedicated to sharing insights and practices to transform frustration and anger, heal the past, nurture conscious relationships, and experience the peace of the present. Visit her at www.Peace4Parents.com.