Being afraid of the dark is no laughing matter to a child. And as a parent, you will see the deficits that come from the residual sleep deprivation that occurs night after night, all day long. Grumpy, groggy children with low energy are not fun to live with, and if they are school aged, this can result in behavioral and learning problems down the line.
Here are some tips for helping your youngster address and conquer their fears of the things that go bump in the night.
- Figure out what your child is afraid of. Listen and acknowledge that the fear is real… to your child. It doesn’t matter if it’s not real to you.
- If you can, make the dark a friendly space. Give them a flashlight to shine under the sheets. Sing soft lullabies in the dark. Read books to them about kids who overcome their own fears of the dark.
- Whether you put stock in the creatures your child imagines is controversial. Some say you should not acknowledge the monster under the bed or in the closet. Others say that giving your children tools to make them feel safe (like the adorable Monster Cuff, this month’s subscriber giveaway) is more useful that ignoring their fears. These may be as simple as their usual security objects or installing a friendly nightlight. Use your judgment.
- Whatever you choose, make sure your child knows they are safe, but be vigilant about keeping them tucked into their own bed. This may be the only way to break them of the anxiety they get while sleeping in their own room.
- Identify any problems your child may have with self-confidence. Do they have any anxiety that needs to be addressed during the day?
- Make sure your bedtime rituals are positive, calming and built around reducing light and noise so that they can ratchet down their own behavior enough to relax and fall asleep.
- It seems obvious, but avoid scary stories, movies and games an hour before bedtime. Limit the fear factor that creeps into their psyches right before bed. Even the content of commercials can be suggestive of things that go bump in the night, however tongue in cheek they may be. Pre-school aged children don’t often know how to discern the real from “the pretend.”
- TV in general may be something to avoid for the time being. Not only are scary movies and shows a problem, but so are more realistic shows depicting criminals breaking into houses or movies showing other kids who have fears at night.
- It’s always good to reward positive behavior positively. Favorite breakfast served the morning after a night all by themselves could be enough motivation for some kids to overcome their fears of the dark. Tell them you’re proud of them for staying in bed. Make sure you listen any time they bring up their fears during the day.
- Identify any stressors during the day, or any traumatic experiences, which may be at the root cause for their fears. You may need to speak with a counselor or doctor to help smooth over these worries, but ultimately, some anxieties do require therapy.