Being afraid of the dark is a common complaint among young children and toddlers. Its official name is ‘nyctophobia’ and for some children, the fear of darkness can cause inconsolable symptoms.
As parents, we know there are no monsters lurking under our beds or in the corners of our bedrooms waiting to frighten us, but children often process this very differently than we do.
It is difficult to pinpoint what has scared your child, it could have been a scary TV show or book, a bad dream, or an emotional event. But whatever it is, there’s always something you can do to help.
Where does the fear come from?
Around the ages of two to four years old, your child’s imagination is running wild. They are actively processing all their daily experiences when they go to bed, some of which might be scary or exciting.
Children aren’t distracted at night so often turn to their imaginations to keep them company. This means that as they begin to process their experiences from the day, those that are a little uncertain may quickly become scary at the same time.
How to overcome the issue
If you are worried about your child’s fear of the dark and you feel it is having an impact on their day to day lives, you may want to tackle the issues head-on.
Listen to your child
The first and most important step you can take is to listen to your child.
Whilst their fear may feel completely irrational to you, try to not be too dismissive. Saying things like “don’t be silly” or “there’s nothing there, go back to sleep” can do more harm than good as it may make your child feel unimportant and as though you don’t understand.
The best thing you can do is to listen to them, ask them questions to understand why they are afraid so that you can help them.
Let them know that the dark can be scary, but that you are there for them and that it’s OK to be a little scared.
If you have older children who may tease your younger child for being scared, make sure they understand how their sibling is feeling and that their fear is very real.
When everyone supports and communicates about your youngest child’s fears, there is a better chance they will outgrow their fear quickly.
Re-assure your child
If your child has a hard time being alone in the dark, reassure them that it’s OK and that their fear is justified but it shouldn’t be a concern at bedtime
Give your child the confidence they need by empowering them with support. By giving your little one the tools they need to tackle their fears, they will soon get more confident and be able to cope much better.
Whatever you do, don’t allow your child to sleep with a night light on or to get into your bed, as this implies that the dark is scary and that their room isn’t a safe place to be.
Be gentle, firm, and understanding with them that their bedroom is a safe space, and, if it comforts them let them know you will be back in to check on them soon.
Before you know it they will have gone back off to the land of nod.
It’s natural to feel fed-up when your child fears the dark, especially if they won’t settle down and it’s keeping you from doing your regular evening activities but it’s important not to direct your anger or irritation at your child.
If your child feels rejected, this will only intensify their fears and make things worse for them.
Read a story or watch a video
A great place to start when trying to get your child over their fear of the dark is by reading a story or watching a video about being afraid of the dark.
Since it’s a common problem in lots of children, there are a plethora of materials out there to help rationalise your child’s fear and help them move past it.
Teach coping skills
Many children overcome their fears by playing them out, and you can apply this to fear of the dark too.
During the daytime, talk to your child about their fear of the dark and talk about how they can counteract them.
For example, help them think of situations that make them happy and in control and every time they are scared tell them to think about their happy place as this can help to soothe them and make them overcome their fears.
Practice problem solving
Problem-solving skills are a great way to help your little one cope with their fears.
Ask them what might help them feel less scared of the dark, for example, a cuddly toy may help your child feel empowered and in control.
Always praise them for any ideas they have.
Remind your child that they have a fantastic and creative imagination that helps them play all the fun games with their friends but tell them that sometimes their imagination can be so good that it plays tricks on them at night.