Whether they're worried about monsters in the closet or scared by the sounds of things going bump in the night, most children experience being scared of the dark at some point in childhood. As an adult, you know that those creeks and thumps aren't trolls under your bed, but an active child's imagination is convinced the trolls are real — and scary. Although it takes time and patience, there are things you can do to help your kid get over their fear of the dark. And with your guidance, support, and encouragement, chances are your little one will conquer their nighttime worries in no time.
It's best to take a proactive approach to your child's fear of the dark as soon as it pops up. "Parents can help kids develop the skills and confidence to overcome fears so that they don't evolve into phobic reactions, according to Kids health from Nemours. This means having a plan to provide security and comfort at nighttime will help both you and your child make it through this phase not only quickly, but also with new tools to manage scary feelings whenever they arise (not just when it's lights out). Use these ideas to help your child kick their fear of the dark to the curb.
1. Stay Calm
It's easy to become frazzled when your child is in active panic mode, but keeping yourself together sets the tone for your child. As Today's Parent magazine pointed out, when you stay calm and relaxed it reinforces that there is no need to worry about the darkness and bedtime. Your child can follow your lead when you are in a chill state.
2. Provide A Comfort Item
Giving your child something to help them feel comforted might lead to more secure feelings about being alone in the dark. Parenting magazine reported on a study published in the European Journal of Pediatrics, which found "sleeping with a new stuffed puppy (the comfort item provided in the experiment) significantly reduced bedtime fears and improved sleep for three quarters of the kids after just one month."
3. Enforce Separate Beds
If your child has been sleeping in her own room, it's best to keep her there when fears arrive. Allowing your child to come into your bed when fear of the dark takes over will send the message that being alone in her room really isn't safe, according to Parents magazine. Staying consistent with reassurance that she is safe in her room will help conquer her fear of the dark.
4. Validate Their Feelings
To help your child feel secure at nighttime, use empathy when she expresses fears. Give an example of how you've felt scared in the past and how it can be difficult to overcome, but possible. Form an alliance and let her know her feelings are real but you are here to help her figure these scary feelings out.
5. Find Their Happy Place
To bring on peace when the fear of darkness strikes, guide your child on a delightful visualization. What To Expect suggested you have your child close their eyes as you describe things they love, like going to the playground or enjoying a treat. Once they can picture their happy place in their mind, some of the fear will melt away.
6. Show Them Worry Is A Choice
By showing kids that worry is a choice they can choose to make or not, you empower them to fact check how accurate their concern is, as Psychology Today explained. Ask you child the following questions to guide them through this process.
- What is worry saying to you?
- How true do you think that is?
- What do you really think is going to happen?
This allows your child to problem solve their fears in a non-judgmental way and deduce exactly what it is that's bothering them.
7. Give Them A Mantra
When my oldest son started to become afraid of the dark, I helped him come up with a phrase he could repeat to himself when fear piped up. After some brainstorming, we came up with, "I am safe, I am protected, I am loved." This little mantra helped him when he'd start to feel the worry rise. He would say in out loud or in his head until his fears subsided.
8. Practice Deep Breathing
Help your little one relax the mind and body, simply by breathing. According to Kids Health from Nemours, taking deep breaths with help convert your child's fears to calm after a few rounds. You can sit in their room and model this technique for them and breath along with them before bed.
9. Use A Nightlight
You can always count on the tried and true campion for any kid that's ever been afraid of the dark: the nightlight. But try not to make it too bright, use a low intensity light that is not close to the child's bed, as Psychology Today suggested.
10. Create A Soothing Routine
Set the mood before the lights go out by creating a bedtime routine that is calming and soothing. Put on soft music, read a comforting story, and slowly fade the lights to dim before exiting your child's room. Reinforce the coping skills they have to use (visualization, mantras, etc) and comfort them as they drift off.