By Jennifer Chung, Kinsights.com
Bedtime should be a time when kids feel safe and secure. Regular bedtime rituals can help accomplish that, however, as kids’ imaginations start to grow, so do their fears. Understanding where kids’ fears originate can help parents provide comfort and put things back into perspective.
Fear of the dark usually starts when kids are old enough to conjure up their own imagination. Normally, this fear will hit kids between the ages of 2 or 3. At this age, they can imagine things but they don’t yet have the cognitive ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. So it’s easy for a shadow of tree branches blowing in the wind to turn into a scary monster. Once lights go out, it’s easy for a child’s imagination to run wild. To help alleviate their fear of the dark, read a bedtime story that has a happy ending or sing songs to leave positive thoughts in your child’s mind before they drift off to sleep.
Too much television can be overstimulating for small children. Things that are appropriate for adults or older children are not always suitable for young kids, especially before bedtime. Whether it is a violent news story or a dramatic movie, it can fuel the fire when it comes to fear of the dark. Limit the amount of time kids spend watching television as well as the types of programs they tune into. Try giving them a nice warm bath and talk about their day to get them ready for bed. Leave them with happy thoughts to ponder as they relax and fall asleep.
Books can also play a part in cultivating a child’s fear of the dark. Books that have graphic illustrations of monsters or witches can live a full life in a child’s imagination after the lights go out. If your child has a fear of monsters hiding in the closet or under the bed, create a bedtime ritual of checking all of the hiding places. Having teddy bears stand guard can create a feeling of being safe while mommy and daddy are sleeping.
When kids misbehave, parents often say something like, “If you don’t behave, the boogie man will get you.” What might sound like a light-hearted disciplinary tactic can backfire and cause kids to be on the lookout for the boogie man in the dark. If your child has fearful outbursts, stay calm and let them talk about their fear. Reassure them they are safe, offer to check on them in 5 minutes. Be sure you peek in on them in case they are still awake. Provide a favorite blanket or teddy bear for added security.
Life circumstances like the death of a pet or family member can play a part in kids’ fear of the dark. Divorce and uncertainty of the future can also cause kids’ imaginations to skyrocket. Talk to your pediatrician about how to relieve your child’s stress. Seeking a counselor may be beneficial. An unbiased adult can help children release pent up emotions and prevent them from rearing their ugly heads at bedtime.
Most kids will outgrow their fear of the dark by the time they are 4 or 5 years old. Once they can differentiate between real life and fantasy, fears will subside on their own. Be patient and stay calm. Don’t dismiss their fear, rather validate their feelings and give them tools to empower them to face their fear in a healthy way.
About Jennifer Chung & Kinsights:
Jennifer Chung is a parenting expert and co-founder of Kinsights.com: part parenting community, part online health record. Kinsights provides parents with a safe place to seek answers to their questions while also helping them track their child’s health information. Organize your child’s growth and developmental milestones, immunizations, medications, allergies, and more. Connect with Kinsights at https://kinsights.com to learn more and sign-up! You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter (@kinsights).