Who's afraid of the dark?
As many Moms and dads know, lots of children are afraid of the dark and sometimes it makes bedtime complicated. Let's find out where this fear comes from and how to deal with it in a constructive manner.
When and why are children afraid of the dark?
Being afraid of the dark is an ancestral fear that generally occurs in preschool age and is a normal part of growing up.
While a newborn baby is not afraid of the dark because he is accustomed to being in his mother's womb, at about 6 months a baby starts to perceive himself and the world around him. What happens then? Children begin to understand that there may be situations of danger and since darkness makes it impossible to see what is in a room, he cannot be sure that he is safe. There is also the fear of being separated from his mother and a feeling of loss when he falls asleep.
What can we do to help children who are afraid of the dark?
The most important thing is to be there for them and to reassure them, and not only with words. So let us take a look at the things to do, step by step.
The best thing to do is to sit on the bed with your child during bedtime and tell him a fairy tale. This helps your child gradually accept the fact that it is now night. The bedtime ritual of reading a fairy tale to your child is a great way to help your child overcome his fear of the dark. Fairy tales should be also explained and not just read, because this way your child turns the fairy tale into an experience and “processes” the emotions you describe. Playing out fairy tales, that often face the question of fear, helps your child become more familiar with destabilising situations, increasing his self-esteem and sense of security.
A stuffed toy or a doll may also be a great help at bedtime. Your child will see the toy as a sort of tiny hero who will defend and protect him during the night.
Most importantly, never make fun of your child's fears but reassure him that there are no monsters in his room by switching on the lights and showing him that all is well. Mom and Dad must understand and contain their child's emotions. Do not play down his fears, but try not to be over-protective either.
Finally, leave the door of your child's room open and leave a light on the bedside table, so that your child has a point of reference if he wakes up at night.