It's very common for children to be scared of the dark. They may have always been scared – or they may have no fear for a long time and then suddenly, inexplicably develop one. Child experts believe that some children are just naturally prone to suffering from night fears. Or an experience may have created a new fear which then manifests itself as a sudden fear of the dark.
Looking For Reasons
Have there been any changes to the child’s life recently? Any of these events can trigger new fears in a child:
Death of a member of the family, friend or pet
New baby in the family
New child care provider
Different pre-school schedule or a change to an existing one
Change in family status due to redundancy or similar
Have they been significantly upset by a scary story or TV program or cartoon
How To Help The Child
Don’t try to make a joke of the fear. It’s real to the child and that’s what matters. You may think you’re making light of their fear by poking fun at it, dismissing it or teasing them about it – but this is known to be unhelpful. It can make the fear last longer and worse, affect the child’s trust in you.
However small the child’s fear seems to you, always listen to them with patience and sympathy. Avoid becoming exasperated or annoyed at the child. You are there to be supportive and work towards a solution. Any sign of derision will be counter-productive.
Give the child something to ‘fight back with’. Create some form of ‘protection’ for them. This could be a superhero toy or special anti-monster potion (water in a simple spray bottle) or a cartoon character flashlight. This will give the child back some of the power that the fear takes away.
Don’t insist that the child sleeps in the dark. If you were scared of spiders, how would you like to be forced to have a tarantula on your hand?
Nightlights (timed and continuous) are available. Leave a small bedside light on until you go to bed. Give the child a flashlight to use whenever they want.
The need for light usually only lasts for a short time so allow the child this simple request. Try and play it down so that the child doesn’t become totally dependent on it.
Try and avoid having the child sleep with you. This is a difficult habit to break so it’s best not to start it. If they come to you, saying they’re scared, simply take them back to bed. Check the room out and reassure them that they are quite safe.
If necessary, stay until the child settles.
Try not to worry too much about the fear. It is normal and happens to a lot of children. If you deal with it calmly and in a helpful way, it should pass within a few weeks or months.
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