Childhood fears come in many shapes and sizes and manifest the worst at night! In this insightful piece, Dr. Sarah Cummings explains how to help kids handle their fear of the dark.
The monster under the bed. The witch in the closet. The boogeyman outside. Your child’s imagination is normally a great thing – except when it becomes its own worst enemy and results in him being afraid of the dark.
During the day, these visions and conjurings are wonderful. They aid in all sorts of games and adventures, shaping how our children see the world and how they find their way in it. But at night, the mind plays terrible tricks. Darkness falls and with it, terrors arise. The result? An inability to sleep and a more upset, anxious child.
Whether we’re children or adults, we all need our sleep. Because sleep deprivation has a bunch of negative mental and physical effects that impact our relationships, our work and our health. That’s why it’s important we get into a habit of having enough, good-quality sleep at an early age; starting with dispelling our fear of the dark.
Here are 3 sure-fire ways to help your child stop being afraid of the dark, and sleep sounder as a result
1. Read/tell them a bedtime story
Bedtime stories have lots of benefits – a big one being that they help your child get to sleep. Hearing your voice and feeling you next to them reassures them of your presence and allows them to relax. Even if the light is turned off soon afterwards, they’ll know you’re nearby and their drift into slumberland will be an untroubled one.
Tip: If your child panics the moment the switch is turned off, why not read them a story after it happens? Make their room dark before the story begins and they’ll associate a darkened room with the security of storytime rather than a fear of abandonment.
Also, if you’re improvising the story as you go along, leave the budding thriller novelist at the door! Your story should be filled with magic and enchantment, not ghosts and ghouls. While we’re on it, it should go without saying but violence-filled films or TV programmes before bed ain’t going to help them sleep soundly either. So if they’re allowed to stay up with you while you watch TV, stick to something child-friendly.
2. Say goodnight
Making a game out of the things your child fears can be the very way to remove these fears in the first place. Open the cupboard, look under the bed, check behind anything that the particular monster might be hiding…and call out brightly ‘Goodnight’! Assure your child that even monsters need their rest and they want to get a good night’s sleep too.
So tell them to say goodnight to whatever they fear and that these things will stay asleep all night. This will work better than trying to convince your child that monsters don’t exist – as if! – and will put them back in control of what can feel like a helpless situation.
3. Give a little light
If you’ve tried the first two steps and your child still can’t go to sleep with the lights off, try using a night-light. Their soft, comforting glow can make their bedroom a sanctuary instead of a place of fear. Plus, if you need to check on them during the night, you’ll be able to see clearly without waking them up. Bonus!
When they’re a bit older, switch off the night-light and leave the bedroom door open a little instead, with the hall light turned on. Then gradually you might be able to close this, too. Baby steps are so important when it comes to any fear. So just make sure you don’t give your child any more than they can handle.
Hopefully, these steps will help your child to combat their anxiety and they will stop being afraid of the dark. And there are lots more ones that you can take – like getting them into a bedtime routine, giving them a cuddly toy to help them settle, bringing them some warm milk for storytime or decorating their ceiling with glow-in-the-dark stars. Get creative, make bedtime something they look forward to and you’ll find yourself with a more rested, happier child in no time!
For more sleep-related tips, check out the articles written on the SleepAdvisor. Both you and your child could benefit a lot from what these guys have to say!
In the meantime, sweet dreams to you and your little one.