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When Children Are Afraid of the Dark - Bedtime Fears - Nighttime Phobias

Updated on April 16, 2012

Fears Have Origins in Evolutionary Times

Fears can make our lives difficult. There are many phobias - intense and illogical fears of situations, places or things, that people are dealing with.

Fears can cause avoidance issues in order to protect ourselves from the feelings that come from experiencing the phobia. Fear of the dark, known as nyctophobia is something children often experience. Other terminology for fear of the dark include lygophobia, scotophobia and achluophobia. Nyctophobia generally refers to children’s fear of the dark, although it can be used for adults too.

Most fears have origins back to evolutionary times. Fear of the dark may be a result of not being able to protect ourselves from predators as well as we can in daylight.

Separation Anxiety and Fear of the Dark

Fear of the dark is very common in children. It can be very troublesome by interrupting their sleep. The root cause for a child may be separation anxiety. For young children, darkness may be something they can not control or don’t fully understand. Their fears are made worse by the great imagination children have. Children who are afraid of the dark need their fears attended to. Often children who have fears, may be showing signs of anxiety. Anxiety is sometimes learned from one or both of their parents. Handle your child’s fears with empathy and compassion. It is important to be understanding, not judgmental towards the things that are bothering them. If you are dismissive, demeaning, or make fun of their fears your child might become frustrated and angry and you may increase their own anxiety.

The best thing you can do for your child is to be sensitive to their feelings and accept that at this moment they have a fear that is very real to them.

Stresses and Changes Can Create Phobias

Talking to your child is very important. You can listen to their fears and what makes them feel afraid. Make them feel safe and secure by telling giving them reassurance. Find out from them what will help them feel more secure. Sometimes a well placed teddy bear can make all the difference. Talk to your child to make sure their fears are not stemming from other worries they may be carrying around inside them.

Try to keep your child relaxed, and as comfortable as possible before they go to bed so their bedtime is enjoyable before they fall asleep. Make sure they don’t watch the news and scary movies or shows or read scary books, before they go to bed.

Nightlights are useful in the hallways. It is better to keep the nightlights out of their room to avoid interfering with their circadian rhythm.

Involve your child in the steps they take to overcome their fear. Compliment them at each small achievement to give them encouragement to stay in bed instead of running into your room, as an example. Stay calm, be understanding, avoid being frustrated or impatient, support them, empower them, and don’t play into their fears. Make them feel as relaxed as possible and make bedtime rituals soothing. Pay attention to the stresses and changes that may be going on. Don’t diminish their feelings. Children do not have the coping skills older children do.

Seek professional help if your child’s fears worsen. Together you will learn how to manage their anxiety and gain helpful strategies.

Listen to Your Child's Fears

If your child is afraid of the dark accept their feelings and respond with empathy and sensitivity. Having fears is a normal part of childhood.

Listen to your child’s fears, no matter how trivial they may seem to you, they are pretty big to them. A child’s fears may become heightened as soon as the lights go out. Seeing shadows, hearing noises, the darkness, all make children fearful as their imagination runs wild from the mystery of the what goes on when the lights go out. Darkness has a way of unleashing their vulnerability and lack of defenses.

In fact fears seem to develop in children around the time imagination starts to develop. Children between the ages of 2 to 3 usually start to develop a fear of the dark. They are just old enough to start to use the imagination, but not old enough to distinguish what is real and what is fantasy. Young children are not sophisticated enough to tell the difference between the two.

Older children may be showing signs of things that may be bothering them. Whatever the age and whatever the reason, as a parent it is important to understand that their fears are real. Be sensitive to the idea that there is something real that is bothering them, even if it manifests itself in something that has no logic, like fear of the dark.

Help Your Children Feel Safe and Secure

Most children outgrow the fear of the dark and the angst it brings, but it is important to address their phobia in a thoughtful and educated manner. Children who have unaddressed anxiety may grow into adults who are full of anxiety and fear. How you handle their concerns when they are young will give them better coping skills when they are older.

Helping your child get over any kind of phobias, is more than just stopping them from having fears. It is really about setting the stage for a trusting relationship between you and your child. When they feel your compassion, learn from your strengths, and gain a sense of security, your child will grow into a much more compassionate, strong, and secure adult who knows they can turn to you when they need.

Help your children feel safe and secure. Teach them to feel comfortable with who they are. Let them know you are there for them always. As parents, we can’t make everything better, but we can listen with close attention, tend to them with care, and love them with all of our heart. Maybe this will help them take the world on from a better point of view. Maybe their fears will be just a little less. Maybe this will help them to make the best decisions for themselves in later years.


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