Most children go through a phase where they are afraid of the dark. These fears usually express themselves around two to three years of age when their young imaginations begin to take root. During this period children also can have a difficult time distinguishing fantasy from reality. These fears can be sparked by books they’re read, television shows or scary stories told to them by their peers.
When children are afraid of the dark their anxiety levels rise, they have difficulty falling asleep and may ask to sleep in their parents’ beds. Effective parenting can help children overcome these fears while ineffective techniques can make the problem persist, possibly for years.
Here are some tips to help parents cope with their child’s fear of the dark.
Don’t Sleep with Your Child
Resist the temptation to allow your child to sleep in your bed or with a sibling when they are afraid. By keeping firm boundaries your child will learn how to cope and eventually overcome their fear. Allowing your child to sleep in your bed can exacerbate the problem so it persists much longer than necessary.
Consider the Source
Stress in their daily life such as the death of a pet, divorce and school problems can express themselves as a fear of the dark. Make sure that if your child’s nighttime anxiety is on the rise it isn’t because of another issue affecting them.
Don’t Play Into the Fear
Make sure you don’t give the fear any credibility. Looking under the child’s bed for a monster or telling them scary stories can make the problem worse. Younger children have a difficult time discerning reality from fantasy and by giving the fear any credibility you can help them rationalize their fear of the dark.
Empower Your Child
Work with your child to find the best way to support them in their attempt to overcome their fear (short of allowing them to sleep in your bed). Make sure they bring items to bed that help them feel secure such as a blanket, stuffed animal or night light. Ask them how you can help them feel more comfortable at night.