Helping your child overcome their fear of the dark

Helping your child overcome their fear of the dark
Nightlight and music, work your magic!

Several nights ago, 3 1/2 year old Franky decided he didn't want to sleep at night anymore. Seemingly out of the blue, he became terrified of sleeping in his room.

No other changes, same old bedtime routine and everything. He just started crying and saying he was scared.

What was he scared of? His ceiling fan, creatures, noises. He couldn't name just one thing. Seems as though he was all around scared.

The other night I heard footsteps and thought that he was grabbing a toy and hopping back into bed. Only did I find out the next morning that he ran across the hallway to his sister's room where he woke her up and made himself at home in her bed until the next morning, kicking little legs and all.

The two issues here are 1. he's afraid, which makes us feel bad and 2. this is keeping the entire household awake, which makes us feel tired. After finally getting him to relax and fall asleep last night, we awoke to another round of being scared that lasted from 2:30-3:30 a.m.

We could have passed for zombies this morning dragging ourselves out of bed, except for Franky, who happily chirped, "Can I have some oatmeal?" "Blergh," I answered pulling milk out of the fridge with one eye open.

This morning I put a halt to any watching of Scooby Doo which is one of his favorites. I think we can take a break from vampires and ghost pirates for awhile.

On top of that, what time of year is it? Oh yeah, Halloween! I can't help to think that although he's super excited for Halloween, this might be adding to the scare factor.

What's a family to do? Here are some helpful tips I found while researching this very problem today.

  • Ask your child what they're afraid of. This helped me a little, but it seems like Franky's little imagination might be turning every shadow and noise into a scary monster. Your child might name something that they heard their sibling say or a cartoon, which will help you pinpoint how to help eliminate anything provoking the fear.
  • Stay calm and don't get frustrated. Easier said than done when it's 3:00 a.m., but their fear is real and not taking it seriously will only add to their anxiety.
  • Resist the urge to let your child sleep in bed with you. Keeping boundaries is important when teaching your child tools to cope with their fear.
  • Allow your child to talk about their fears in the daytime. They might be able to express their fears more clearly during the day, which will help you to support those coping skills and build their self confidence.
  • Eliminate television or scary books 90 minutes before bedtime. Similar to how you might feel after watching a scary movie. Multiply that with your child's imagination.
  • Allow nightlights and other security objects. Leave their door open a bit and leave a light on. Or, use a nightlight and make sure your child has a stuffed animal or blanket that helps them feel secure.

We always keep the bathroom light on and Franky's door cracked open. Since this didn't seem to be cutting it, I let him pick out a new nightlight at the store today.

I also decided to make him a CD of calm music. Like most kids, he loves music. I put together some classical pieces that I knew he would like (Clair de Lune, Brahms Lullaby, etc.) and explained that he was going to be able to listen to his very own CD at night.

He was very excited about both of these things and as soon as I turned the music on, he curled up in his bed. Realistically, I don't think this is going to disappear overnight, but we're making progress and that's what counts.

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Sources for this post:

WebMD Children's Health: Fear of the Dark

The Cleveland Clinic: Strategies for Overcoming Nighttime Fears

Filed under: kids

Tags: fear of the dark

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