What to do when a child is afraid of the dark
Fear of darkness is one of the most common fears not only among children but also among adults. Let’s be frank, in adults it anyway stems from the childhood. Sometimes children can explain what exactly scares them, but often this fear is irrational they are scared because they are scared.
"My kid is very afraid of the dark. He falls asleep with the light on, and sometimes we later switch it off. If our son wakes up in the night with the light off, he starts to cry, and it's not easy to appease him". When parents face this, they often begin feeling alarm. They cannot catch up on their sleep, and feel pity for their child, and yet they don't know how to help him. Of course, the easiest way one can go is just to not turn off the light. But this does not eliminate the problem (except maybe for the parents themselves), because the kid continues being afraid of the darkened corridors, starts crying wildly when someone happened to turn off the light in the bathroom for short while. Later this kid's trait might be used by his peers with evil intent. And the very fear might eventually grow into phobia, insecurity, isolation.
Why does the fear of darkness stem? The reason may be the recent changes in the child. Suffered through the illness, a new nanny came, mom went back to work, a little sister was born – this kind of things may get ingrained in the child's perception of the world, causing a sense of uncertainty and insecurity. Besides, it's difficult for children to distinguish imagination from reality – some are afraid of an old witch from a fairy-tale, some – of a clown-animator, yet others – of monsters fostered by their own imagination. Fear of darkness depends on the temper of the child; a sensitive child is more prone to fears.
How to help your child? First, we must realize that fear might not disappear entirely. A kid can just go through a stage of development when he needs to overcome his fear. Second, be patient – in any case, the fear is unlikely to leave the child immediately. You are required to provide the following conditions (not only at night), in which the child would feel secure.
Don't mock your child's fears. Never, even if it's not out from spite. Don't tease the child, and don't try to get him talking if it is unpleasant to him. Don't show any irritation to the child. Fear will stay for longer, and credibility to you may get dented.
Start a happy-bedtime-routine. No scaries before bedtime – just calm, happy stories, and quiet games. Don't overstimulate your child in the evening. Turn off television news, political talk shows, and thrillers or watch movies with headphones when the child is in bed. You may not notice, but the child being half asleep can get to hear a disturbing music or excited voices.
Continue to leave the nightlight on in the children’s room. Currently, there are many interesting nightlight-projectors making falling asleep a fascinating time. You can also put a small flashlight near the crib so that the kid feels armed against night boogiemen.
You can leave the nursery door open. If the child has a favorite toy, let him sleep with it. During the day, you can be making up stories about some toy on watch safeguarding the kid's night rest. Even if you have a pet agreeing to sleep with your child, let her or him do so. In terms of health it is unlikely to be critical, as during the day the child and the animal make contact, but for your kid's mental health such a sleep might be very useful.
If the child can be appeased only by you, try using two-way baby monitors. If the child is suddenly awakened and frightened, he will call you on the baby monitor, and you comfort him without coming in the nursery. On the other hand, such a device may lead to your child's frequent and unjustified appeals. If you come into the nursery to calm your child, avoid taking him/her into your arms and carrying to your bed. The purpose of this is not that the child might like it and he will begin manipulating you, but rather the fact that thus you will show it's really unsafe in the crib. However, if the child is crying almost hysterically and really badly frightened, in no way refuse to take pity on him. Take him in arms, fondle, and speak to him gently and steadily. Turn on the light (better if it is a dim sconce or a table lamp). Finally, there is nothing wrong if the child spends few nights with you – if it brings back confidence and peace of mind.
Most children outgrow the fear of darkness in several weeks or months. You should not show anxiety and anger, but stay responsive. However, in cases where a strong fear of darkness manifests for many months in a row and nothing takes effect on it, better consult your pediatrician.