The Best Ways to Stop Children Being Afraid of the Dark

How to stop children being afraid of the dark

Whether it’s monsters under the bed, or the bogeyman at the window, small children have a propensity to have one major fear in common: the dark.

Children, particularly toddlers to mid-primary age, live in a world where their experience of life is all about their senses, and making sense of their senses. From the moment your child starts to find ways to move they realise the vastness of their environment, and rely on learning cues from touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing - to make sense of what’s going on around them. They rely on the here and now interpretations of their senses, more than we as adults rely on logic.

But we still find ourselves battling the heebie-jeebies when we’re alone on our own at night.


Why Are Children Afraid of the Dark?

As well as their acute sensory understanding of their world, small children also have vivid imaginations. As yet they are unconstrained by experience or context. You might logically know that nothing could get in the house apart from the odd draught, and besides Scully and Mike-like monsters don’t exist…but children don’t. They spend their days in a fantasy world of spaceships and aliens, princesses and dragons, goodies and baddies. They can’t just switch that off with the closing page of the bedtime story.

The Best Ways to Stop Children Being Afraid of the Dark

Understanding why they are afraid is the first step. But what can you actually do about it so that all is well and little heads find their way drifting into the land of nod? These are the Sitters Top Tips for dealing with children who are afraid of the dark:

• Acknowledge their fears: It’s easy to fall into Victorian Parent mode of “because I said so”, but a huge number of parenting situations, including little thumping heart beats over the shadows, can be assuaged with straightforward acknowledgement. Let your child know you understand and are on their side by acknowledging their fear with simple language such as “you seem very frightened, but I am here”.

• Demonstrate reality: whilst it’s tempting to dash out the door because your favourite programme starts in 30 seconds, the reality is that you will see more of it if you take the time to open the wardrobe, check behind the door, or inspect whatever space it is that’s worrying your little one.

• Focus on routine: For younger children particularly, fear of the dark can become utterly intertwined with separation anxiety. By providing a consistent bedtime routine, they know what’s happening, they know the end result. Nothing comes as a surprise. This can help them associate positive memories for restful sleep and night-time with the comfort of regular rituals. Different families hone their own bedtime routines, but we always find a story is key to calming and winding down. For those afraid of the dark try reading the wonderful  ‘The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark’ by Jill Tomlinson.

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• Don’t make bad jokes: Whether out of exasperation or jesting, it’s going to come back round to bite you if you threaten bed bugs biting them, or bogeymen coming out at night. Children don’t get nuances of language like adults, so keep the language around bedtime simple, and keep the bed bugs out of it.

• Utilise light: Your child will be far from alone if they don’t sleep in pitch dark. Whilst it can be good for very young babies, older children from potty training are likely to need some chink of light not only to help them with their fears, but also to prevent night time stumbles on toilet trips. It might be possible to find a solution to this by leaving a hallway light on and the door ajar, but if you’d rather buy a nightlight then look here for the best offerings.

Being Afraid of the Dark is Just Another Phase

As with all things ‘parenting’, helping your child come through the other side, and realising that there is nothing to be afraid of in the dark, is just another phase. It will end in time. But in the meantime, cherish their imagination, reassure them of their safety, and put in place our recommendations for a peaceful night for all.


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