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How to Help a Child Who is Afraid of the Dark

Updated on March 27, 2011

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!

  1. 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.
  2. Allow a closet light, night light, or flash light to remain on (even if the child is in your room).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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    • RainbowRecognizer profile imageAUTHOR

      RainbowRecognizer 

      5 years ago from Midwest

      Interesting. For children who can accept a toy as a substitute for or the reassurance of security, it may be helpful. Thank you for sharing.

    • profile image

      Katherine Donahue 

      5 years ago

      My daughter struggles with fear of the dark that keeps her from sleeping.

      I did a lot of research on how to help her with this fear, different bedtime routines. I even asked my parents for advice. They sent me a toy that has been really helpful for my daughter and I. They're called Starshine Watchdogs. These guys are great. They're plush dogs that light up "star lights" I can put in places my daughter finds troubling. We put them by her closet.

      She can press her dog's, Skye, paw and the star light lights up. The dog also can talk to her if she's having a hard time in her room. It's been incredible, she's been able to show herself that there's nothing scary and she hasn't needed to come sleep with me for a week.

      I highly suggest trying these guys if your little ones have the same fear:

      http://shop.pillowchums.com/STARSHINE-WATCHDOGS_c1...

    • Thundermama profile image

      Catherine Taylor 

      6 years ago from Canada

      I love the idea of playing in the dark to transform it from a place of fear to a place of fun and exploration. This is one we are still trying to work through at our house. Good tips.

    • Sara Algoe profile image

      HARRIS 

      10 years ago from Phoenix, Ariz

      Great Hub ! If you ask me, I am still afraid of dark and the big reason for that is all those horrible horror movies that i saw all my life. Another reason involved my parents and their wacky ghost stories.

      I am no expert on this topic but i have noticed that most children who are afraid of dark are mostly because they are alone (single Child). What i suggest is buy your child a pet and most recommended, a dog.

      Pets can induce confidence into children and most of the times cure the feeling of being alone.

    • RainbowRecognizer profile imageAUTHOR

      RainbowRecognizer 

      10 years ago from Midwest

      I am so glad you've added a bit about EFT - yes, it is Great for things like this! And I have also seen it work wonders for the littlest of ones one up to the big ones (adults!) I look forward to your hub :o)

    • Catherine Behan profile image

      Catherine Behan 

      10 years ago from San Diego

      Hi Amy,

      I had a profound experience with comforting a terrified infant....from 2000 miles away. Fear is real and manageable. I would have given anything to know EFT when my kids were little. My son was a very anxious child, the infant I mentioned is his son.

      My daughter in law was driving with her 4 month old son in the car when I just happened to call. The baby was screaming in terror. I asked her to put the cell phone on the seat and then I started tapping. She is in Tennessee, I am in California.

      You know as I write this, I think I should make the story into a hub of its own....

      Stay tuned...

      Catherine

      http://howtomakeyourmanperfect.wordpress.com

    • RainbowRecognizer profile imageAUTHOR

      RainbowRecognizer 

      10 years ago from Midwest

      Ripplemaker ~ I like that idea a lot, especially for the child who has a deep sense of faith :o) Thanks for checking out the site!

      Princessa ~ Starting with a small amount of time is great. I do think it's important for the parent to stay available and to help the child embrace the fear, to talk about what is going on in the child's head a bit and eliminate fears through gently directing thoughts towards a more relieving pattern. Even doing some breathing exercises and making it fun, rather than actual resisting, can really help.

      I bring this up because a child may "resist" and only do it to be strong or something similar, and not really clear the fear :o) Thank you for commenting! :o)

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      10 years ago from France

      Very good hub. It might also help spending short periods of time in the dark and increasing that amount of time. I mean, only a few seconds in the dark where the child can count aloud the number of seconds that he is able to "resist". At the start, it might be only ten seconds or so, but gradually, the amount of time will increase as the child comes to realize that there is nothing wrong with being in the dark.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      10 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      What a good topic to talk about Amy! These are great tips on how to help a child overcome his/her fears. :) When I used to be scared, I'd ask God to hold my hand. That comforted me a lot. :) Now I'm off to check your website.

    • RainbowRecognizer profile imageAUTHOR

      RainbowRecognizer 

      10 years ago from Midwest

      Hey everyone :o) It is nice to find like-minded others here at hubpages. I like it here so much :o) Feelings are real and they are very often stuffed, shut down, or otherwise minimized. An interesting thing occurs when we actually allow them, they move through with a message... a true gift.

      I love the night light play and keep away for monsters :o) And it is interesting that the entity you cohort with, CW, prefers the light. In truth the dark couldn't exist without the light and it all trickles down to light, but I might be getting a little complex for a hub about childhood fears ;o)

    • profile image

      cvaughn570 

      10 years ago

      These are excellent tips. Children's fears should never be overlooked. You offer great information for parents struggling with this issue.

      Carol :-)

    • Constant Walker profile image

      Constant Walker 

      10 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

      Great hub. I grew up in the city where it's never really dark. Shadows caused by outside lights came into the room and created animals and monsters. The solution was quick and easy for my mother: a tiny nightlight. The soft glow kept the creatures at bay. They are, as any kid knows, unable to enter the light.

      To this day, I sleep with my TV on - which is odd because the entity living in my current home prefers the light...

    • theomzone profile image

      theomzone 

      10 years ago from Paradise

      I really appreciate that you ackowledge the fear is real. So many parents stop the dialog at, "go back to sleep, there's nothing there." You can't fix what you won't look at. I love the idea of playing in the dark. I did that with my oldest son and it worked wonders. I also bought for him one of this little things that made a light show on the ceiling. We started playing with it in a darkish room during the day as a "special treat". When we trasitioned it to nighttime use he was so excited about getting to use it! ] I am really glad to have found you on hub pages.

    • RainbowRecognizer profile imageAUTHOR

      RainbowRecognizer 

      10 years ago from Midwest

      Thank you for your comments - I think this is really common and it certainly can add up to be a fear that stays with a person so it's worth honoring and resolving :o)

    • talented_ink profile image

      talented_ink 

      10 years ago from USA

      I remember being afraid of the dark when I was a kid and I was afraid of it because I thought Jason or Freddy might be waiting for me. I know now that thoughts like that are ridiculous, but those thoughts can be all too real for kids. I got over my fear by sitting in the dark long enough to see that there wasn't anything in the dark that was out to get me. Reading through your hub, I also see that if parents don't help their children with all of their fears, then those fears carry into adulthood and can even get stronger or bring on new fears like the fear of the dark can translate into fear of the unknown. Great hub!

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