It is quite common and natural for children to have a fear of the dark. When I was little, I was often scared that there was someone in the closet or under the bed, and a shadow in a dark corner would easily become a two-headed beast. I always begged my mom to lie in bed with me until I fell asleep. When she left, my brother would play tricks on me by shaking a soda can with a few coins inside to create a “rattling” sound outside my room. It was terrifying. From time to time I still get those fearful feelings when I’m in an unfamiliar place alone especially at night.
Have you been through the same thing? If so, it will be easier to relate your own kid’s fear of the dark and empathize with your kid. We should never treat such fears as “just being silly”. Understanding why kids are afraid of the dark is the first step in helping to ease their anxiety. Here are several reasons why kids are afraid of the dark:
Our vivid imaginations can not only conjure up something beautiful, but also something scary.
According to Jenn Berman, a family therapist in Beverly Hills, Calif, kids around the ages of 2 or 3 tend to grow a fear of the dark, because they are old enough to have a sense of imagination, but not wise enough to distinguish fantasy from reality. This helps the unknown turn scary. The idea of “monsters in the dark” or “monsters under the bed” has been planted in children’s mind at some time. This is funny during the day, but when their active imaginations get going at night, it’s more terrifying than hilarious.
“Television is one of the worst offenders when we’re talking about a fear of the dark. Parents don’t recognize how much TV can affect their children”, says Jenn Berman. Today’s screens (from phone to TV) are filled with content designed to surprise and shock. When susceptible children are exposed to stimulating media that is full of anxiety, a sense of fear and uncertainty can lay the foundation of anxiety easily triggered by unfamiliar environments such as dark places.
Not seeing is not knowing. It’s a fear of the unknown. Humans are hardwired to fear unknown variables. It makes sense since we only survived primitive times using our intelligence. There are no natural weapons at our disposal so we need to see dangers coming to survive. It is hard to do that in the dark. And for children, anything could be skulking behind the door or curtain, and unless they can see that something isn’t there, they assume it is there. Even some adults are unwilling to wake up in pitch blackness. It is disorienting.
Children often show a fear of the dark at bedtime. You can really use this as an opportunity to help them conquer their fears.
What you can do:
Give your kid a sense of safety.
When kids feel insecure, they may find it difficult to think clearly and fall asleep. It would be great if you could hold your kid. Tell him he’s safe but you want to know more about what he is afraid of. Tell him you will stay with him until he’s ready. Or you can ask him if he wants mommy to check on him, and let him decide what time makes him most secure. Does he want to be checked on in 10 minutes, an hour? Whatever will help him feel better.
Provide soothing foods before bed.
Foods play an important role in managing anxiety. Certain foods can actually reduce nerve function and help children sleep more soundly. For example, almonds and walnuts contain melatonin, a hormone that helps to adjust your sleep cycle and make you fall asleep faster.
Consider a night light.
The absence of light can terrify kids because not seeing is more or less not knowing. Kids are very curious and are scared of what they don’t know about, can’t know about. A night light that glows in the dark can help kids to calm down. Some people are worried that kids may wake up in the middle of the night because of the light. In that case, you can choose a night light that can turn off automatically to ensure complete darkness during children’s deep sleep.
Avoid media use before bed.
Don’t let your kids watch Television or play video games at nighttime. Studies have shown that children who watch more TV and play more video games before bed take longer to fall asleep than those who watch less, or none at all. If watching TV is a part of your little one’s bedtime routines, be aware that doing so can make it harder to fall asleep. You can make bedtime soothing with some calming and relaxing activities. For example, you can try to make story time, or puzzle time, or coloring time a new part of your kid’s bedtime routines.
Most kids outgrow the fear of the dark in a few months or years. You should know that this will pass and your consideration and patience do mean a lot to your kids. Although we are all exhausted at the end of the day, bedtime should always be loving and warm with a hug and kiss goodnight.