Newborn babies have no fear of the dark but as your child gets older, this irrational fear often emerges. Most children are scared of the dark at some point. It is an indicator of your child's development. Around the age of two, your child's imagination runs wild and they can dream up all sorts of scary creatures. At the same time, they struggle to distinguish fantasy from reality. The monster lurking in a dark corner of their room is very real to them.
Even though this is a normal part of growing up, living with a child that is afraid of the dark is not easy. There is no magic wand that you can wave to allay their fears. However, we've compiled the very best advice from experts to give you the top 10 parenting tips to help your child overcome their fear of the dark.
#1 Don't ignore a fear of the dark
There are many moments in parenting where the best approach is to simply ignore something and wait for it to sort itself out. This is not one of them. To toddlers, the monsters are real and they are experiencing genuine fear. This is important for two reasons.
Firstly, the sudden development of a fear of the dark can indicate that something more serious is going on that you need to address. To a child, the world can be a stressful place. Childhood issues such as the adults in their life leaving (from bereavement or divorce) or anxiety associated with change (a house move or a new nursery) can trigger fear of the dark. It is important that you investigate the potential causes of your child's fears and seek help if needed.
Secondly, ignoring a fear of the dark is likely to make it worse. Ordering a child not be afraid or belittling them with phrases like "Only babies are scared of the dark" is even worse.
#2 Beware of instant fixes
Parents need sleep and usually don't get enough of it! So, they will often do anything just to get their kids back to bed. A natural reaction would be to run into your child's room and put on the main light or grab them and take them into your own bed. It's a natural parenting reaction to want to do something quickly because you feel bad that your toddler is upset.
But if you stop and think, you will realise that this is not empowering your child to face their fear of the dark. Children learn how to deal with their fears when they are empowered and supported to do so. You can teach your child how to do this and it will help with all their future fears. It is best if they stay in their own dimly lit room but you should always reassure them that you are close by if they need you.
#3 Spend time in the dark together
One of the reasons that children develop a fear of the dark is that they are often alone in it. They are on their own in bed with fewer distractions and their fears can overwhelm them. If you spend fun time in a dark room with your child, they will learn to feel secure in lower light.
There must be no elements to the games that could make your child feel afraid and no mention of monsters! You could set up a treasure hunt in your child's bedroom for glow-in-the-dark objects or dim the lights and make patterns with torches on the wall.
#4 Never get angry with your child
Dealing with a kid's fear of the dark can be very frustrating for a parent especially when it lingers in older children and you feel it will never end. Getting annoyed, however, is not helpful at all and will only make things worse.
Instead, reassure your child that their fear of the dark is normal. Try to see things through your child's eyes. As a parent, you know that there are no monsters in the closet so explain this calmly and support your child. If you feel that your child's fear is impacting family life and you are struggling to cope, seek some support from a medical professional.
#5 Check in with your kid regularly
It often helps both parents and kids to set up a schedule of how often you will check on them when they go to bed. This can be every five minutes or every 20 minutes. Most children fall asleep once you have checked on them a few times.
However, it is essential that you keep your end of the bargain. Most kids will be waiting for at least 15 minutes before they fall asleep. As things improve over a period of a few weeks, you will only have to check on them every half an hour or even more. This is a more gentle way of saying good night and does not bring the day to such an abrupt end.
#6 Create a relaxing bedtime routine
A relaxing bedtime routine can help your child approach night time in a calm and positive way. Start with a relaxing warm bath with a natural relaxing bath foam that will help your child feel soothed and ready for bed. Wrap them in a warm towel and put on their nightclothes.
Now you can start a special one-to-one time as you share some bedtime stories. Don't rush these but be firm about drawing them to an end when you need to. You could make a diluted solution of lavender oil in a spray bottle and spray it on your child's bedclothes but not directly on the pillow.
#7 Give your child a companion
When we say companion, we do not mean a sibling. Using older siblings to help with a fear of the dark can backfire dramatically. Scary stories from older siblings could be what made your toddler afraid of the dark in the first place. Also, it is not helpful for your toddler to become reliant on an older child.
Instead, give your toddler a special toy to keep them company at night. A stuffed animal can go a long way towards easing their anxiety. Find nice collection of soft toys from our store. Other children have a special blanket - they feel comforted and reassured when they snuggle up to it.
#8 Use a night light
The problem with main light switches is that it is either very bright or completely dark. Parents can help their child to feel less afraid of the dark by putting a night light into their room.
A night light should not be any brighter than seven watts and a blue or yellow light is most calming. This Rockit Zed Sleep Soother and Night Light fits the bill perfectly. It does not introduce harmful chemicals into your child's bedroom as it's made from BPA- and phthalate-free PVC and it emits a gentle blue light.
#9 Things to avoid at bedtime
What you don't do can be just as important as what you do! There are lots of things that can make a fear of the dark worse and should be avoided. Top of the list is scary TV shows. These will just fire up active imaginations and your child will dwell on what they have seen once they are alone in bed. YouTube videos and other social media content can be just as scary so always monitor closely what your child is watching on household devices.
Scary books are also not a good idea as they can trigger thoughts of bad guys and monsters. Games that get children very excited should also be avoided as it can be hard to calm them down again.
#10 Don't keep too quiet
When toddlers are in bed at night and they cannot hear their family, their imagination will take over. Obviously, there should be no loud noises and it should not sound as if you are having too much fun!
However, some gentle background noise is very soothing. You could leave a radio or speaker splaying some soothing music in another bedroom. All music subscription apps will have soothing music playlists that you could use.
Final word on children being scared of the dark...
It can be easy to fall into the habit of playing on your child's fears of the dark as a method of control. This will make the situation worse. Never say things like "If you are good the monsters won't get you". You are confirming that monsters exist!
It is also possible to get too involved with their fears. If you agree to check if there is a monster under the bed, you are confirming that monsters exist AND could be living under the beds in your house! Be very careful how you handle this. Instead, state clearly that there is nothing under the bed and invite your child to see this for themselves while you stand by.
Fear of the dark - Web MD