My child is scared of the dark. What can I do?
Children generally discover their fear of the dark around the age of 2 to 3. Its onset is around the time their imagination starts to develop. Unfortunately, they don’t have the maturity to distinguish reality from their fantasy world.
The night is dark and full of terrors…
Despite the fears your child shares with you, it’s not the dark and monsters that scare them the most.
It is the fact they lose their bearings when alone in bed and the lights go out. Children need to be reassured by their parents and their environment when they are alone.
In some cases, fear of the dark can be explained as a manifestation of separation anxiety. Your child can no longer see you and feels abandoned. This fear will rear its ugly head from time to time and is observed until the end of the preschool period.
5 tips to help your child overcome their fear of the dark
1. Explore their fears
Childhood fears should not be taken lightly and swept under the rug with an ‘It’s nothing, no big deal’ attitude. They are part of a child’s development as they learn to tell the difference between dangerous and harmless situations and build self-confidence along the way.
You should therefore take this very seriously, while being careful how you react.
Try to put yourself in their shoes to understand this fear of the dark. Is it linked to a specific event, such as a move, switching daycares or a new teacher in the picture?
2. Provide a calm presence
Nobody likes being woken up in the middle of the night, but you must always keep your calm when it happens. If you express frustration and impatience, you risk magnifying your child’s fear and anxiety.
Find the right words to reassure your child that fit the situation at hand. Listen attentively as they share their fears with you. Hold them in your arms. Remind them you will return to check on them once they fall back asleep.
Sticking to a regular bedtime routine is the key to creating a calm atmosphere. Spend some cuddle time after the bath reading stories or playing a game.
A blanket or a teddy bear are often involved, ready to help your establish a sense of security for your child. Relaxing music or the sound of waves can also help.
There are ways to lessen the degree of separation anxiety a child experiences. Why not place a pillow inside one of your t-shirts? Your familiar smell will provide a sense of comfort when your little one holds the pillow tight.
3. Bolster their sense of control
In a reassuring setting, ask your child what they can do to keep the monsters at bay and tackle their fear of the dark. They can find a solution themselves if they have some control over their emotions, which can help calm them down and fall asleep.
We often play games to distract kids from anxiety caused by their childhood fears. For example, building a weapon with super powers for protection can serve to empower them.
Highlight moments when they successfully coped with their fear. Positive reinforcement is a proven tactic to deploy.
4. Turn the night light on
Keep some light in the room: often the best strategy to take when your child experiences nightmares on a regular basis.
If your little one wakes up in the night, they will be able to distinguish fact from fiction, real objects from shadows and fall soundly back asleep without needing your presence.
5. Respect their pace
Each child has their own unique character and develops at their own pace.
This is why you must respect their development stage to help them conquer their fear of the dark.
It is counterproductive to push them or rush them to overcome this fear if they are still unable to distinguish between their imaginary world and the real one.
And if that doesn’t work?
It is a good idea to consult a health professional if your child cannot overcome their fear of the dark.
Monitor whether these fears are preventing your child from functioning normally on a daily basis and if they turn into anxiety or a phobia.