Many young children will express a fear of the dark at some stage or another. It is hugely common between the ages of 6-8 years when children have full understanding of being alone in a room and uncertainty about what they cannot see.
Parents with fear of darkness can also unintentionally put this fear onto their children as children will pick up on the smallest of signals that a parent is uncomfortable.
So how do you reassure a child who is afraid of the dark and, more importantly, how do you keep them in their own rooms and settling to sleep as you know they can do?
Here are my six steps to helping your child overcome fears of the dark and settle soundly to sleep:
Determine whether or not the fear is genuine or an excuse. It’s easy for children to play on something they have heard on TV or from a friend and if it gets you to stay with them longer, do extra things for them and keep engaging, they’ll use it!
A genuine fear of the dark won’t be something that is mentioned now and again. Your child will consistently express this fear and you’ll know it’s real.
Reassure rather than dismiss. If you disregard your child’s fears as nonsense or ‘silly’, they may fear unheard and unsupported.
On the flip side, If you respond with something such as allowing your child into your bed or checking under her bed or in her closet for monsters, you are validating the fear and your child’s need to be in your room or have you there!
Instead, listen, let your child express and unload the thoughts she is having and then talk rationally, at her level, how that wouldn’t be possible or doesn’t exist. Reassure that your child is safe and that mummy and or daddy are close by.
10 Minute check in – If you let your child know that you will check in on her after 10 minutes to make sure she is okay, it will help her to relax and let go safe in the knowledge you’ll be back in soon. The chances are, your child will be asleep within that time but, if not, do pop your head in and stick to your word. Make it brief and get back out!
Use a night light to allow your child to see what’s in the room and see that there is nothing to be afraid of. A red coloured dim light is the most preferable. Amber is the next best option but definitely do not go for regular light bulb colours or white LED lights.
Red light does not interfere with night vision so your child’s vision will adapt and they will be able to see without this hindering sleep.
Other lights will actually cause a suppression in the production of the hormones required for sleep which is why we talk about limiting ‘blue light’ (daylight, screen light) and stopping this at least an hour before bedtime.
Don’t let your child get over tired because we are all less rational when we are tired. A minor fear of the dark will become a big deal and your child may be much more reluctant to settle down if over tiredness kicks in. Stick to a regular bedtime and even early nights if you know she’s extra tired.
Be consistent in how you respond to your child about fears of the dark. Like with anything, consistency is key and your child will feel more secure and be more likely to settle if she always gets the same reassurance from you.
If you are inconsistent and sometimes you let her into your bed, or sometimes you sit beside her, or sometimes you get cross and say ‘don’t be silly’ – She won’t know where she stands and will keep seeking some sort of outcome that pleases her. When the response is always the same, she will feel secure and settle more and more easily over time.
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