Fear of the dark

A fear so real, that millions of children are convinced that something is lurking in the dark, ready to grab them at any moment.

Parents are often unaware of the moment this fear sets in but what they do know for sure is how anxious their children get when the lights go out.

With help from the experts we will talk about the source of fear of the dark, why it is so tangible and real during childhood and what parents can do alleviate the anxiety and help children overcome this fear.

Origins of fear

Fear is a normal aspect of life, appearing while experiencing the unknown-a new, untested, action.

For children the unknown occurs every day, thus fear has opportunities to rear its ugly head, especially at night.

Normally, fear of the dark appears at around 2-3 years of age when children are big enough to imagine things but not keen enough to distinguish between fantasy and reality.

This can turn the unknown into a source of fear, especially at night when there are few sources to distract the child’s attention, thus making him more vulnerable to fear.

Sources likely to cause the fear of the dark

• TV watching

Even though sometimes parents don’t realize, TV sounds and images are inappropriate for young children, as these can feed their overactive imagination thus constituting a base source for fear of the dark.

• Books

Starting from tales with wizards, fairies and monsters children can interpret incorrectly a situation or develop imagery which feeds their fears during nighttime.

• Empty threats

The well- meant common practice to threaten young children with Boogie man can prove harmful as it constitutes a cause of nighttime fear.

Some children remain with a lingering fear after they grow up but usually this can be cured.

Do’s and Don’ts in case of fear of the dark

The best approach is to talk to the child showing empathy and understanding, by no means stating the fear is childish and unfounded. This will only guilt trip the child, helping in no way in solving of the problem.

1. Remain as calm as possible

Explain to the child that fear is normal and natural. Offer him comfort and teach him that he can overcome his fears.

2. Don’t get annoyed

Don’t tease the children about the unreality or foolishness of the fear. Monsters aren’t real but fear definitely is!

3. Help your child

Be receptive to their needs especially during nighttime when they are prone to emotional regression

4. Let the children sleep alone

Resist the lure to sleep with them in the same bed, or name an older sibling to watch over them

5. Help the child discover the resources to overcome the fear

Anything that will make him feel safe during nighttime is a worthy resource such as checking in on the child during nighttime or letting him sleep with the favorite toy, a blanket or a small vigil light.

6. Don’t get caught in the fear of the dark game

Don’t check under the bed, or give any credibility to the monsters by claiming that they will go away if the child behaves.

7. Create appropriate sleep conditions

That means no TV before bed and some quality time with your child before bedtime.

8. Don’t overrule a bigger issue

Emotional stress and anxiety due to parent divorce, death of a loved being or birth of another sibling can be manifested as fear of the dark. If this is the case please contact your pediatrician about the possibility of psychotherapy.

9. Ask for professional help

With the help of the parents, most children overcome their fear of the dark. If this is not the case the wisest course of action would be to take into consideration the possibility of psychotherapy for your child.

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