Fear is a normal part of life for all of us, including our children, and it tends to start when they’re trying something new or something they’ve never experienced before – it’s all about the unknown. Whether your little one is afraid of monsters in their closet at night, spooky shadows on the wall, or just a general fear of the dark it can be exhausting for all involved. Here are five tips to help you and your child cope and even help them overcome this fear.
The best thing a parent can do for a child with a fear of the dark is to validate their feelings. Let them know that you understand that they are scared and that it’s normal to have a fear of the dark. Communicate with them, be respectful, and show them that you understand by having patience and compassion.
A nightlight may be the first thing you try, but many children will need a stronger lamp to feel reassured. In order to help your kids feel empowered, make light switches more accessible to them, or have the lamp closer to their bed. If you have some spare Christmas type lights, string one small strand up around their bed, letting them know where the on/off switch is. Or go shopping together for a flashlight – you can find all kinds of cute or fun ones in various stores – have them pick out their favorite and keep by their bed. Giving them the choice whether or not they need it.
Children are often comforted by a stuffed animal, warm blanket, or other objects that will help them battle the fear on their own. Ask them what will be most helpful. If they are unsure, try a few things until you get the right one. Also, they now make glow in the dark stuffed animals that might be the perfect mixture of light and cuddly that your child needs.
If monsters, witches, goblins, or the like are scary to your child then do a monster check before bed. Have monster spray in a bottle (a plain spray bottle with water and a cute label works on a lot of toddlers) and let them know where it is and that they can use it anytime they are scared. Have them help you check under beds and in closets and inspect any and all shadows once turning off the light. Ask them if they would like Mom or Dad to check on them throughout the night – give them the option. Again, it’s about empowering them to fight the fear on their own with your help.
To help your child overcome their fears a bit more on their own, ask them if they would like to accept a challenge and win a prize. If they say yes, have them enter their dark room by themselves, with you close by. Let them know you are there, but encourage them to try. Give them the option though – don’t push and if they are afraid, don’t make them feel bad. Try again in a few days. Sticker charts are great for this. If your child stays in bed or in their room, they get a sticker and at the end of a week or a five-night run, they can pick a prize or earn something.
Forcing a child to face their fears is ineffective and will actually exacerbate the problem in the future. Go slow, give them tools to empower themselves over their fear, and help them as much and as gently as you can.
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