Being afraid of the dark is actually one of the most common – and natural – fears that develop in children as it’s closely linked to the fear of the unknown. In fact, some adults still struggle with this!
When do children become afraid of the dark?
Kids between the ages of 2 and 3 may start being afraid of the dark and there’s a good reason for that. At that age and stage of development, kids have vivid imaginations but still have difficulty distinguishing between what’s real and what’s make-believe. So they may see something scary on TV and later imagine that same monster is hiding under their bed.
What to do when your child is afraid of the dark
Acknowledge your child’s fear
It’s tempting to say things like, “There’s nothing to be afraid of”, or, “you’re too big to be afraid of the dark” but remember that while it might seem silly to you, the fear is very real for your child. Dismiss it and you run the risk of them feeling they can’t confide in you.
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Ask what they are afraid of & what might help
Don’t assume that your little one is afraid of monsters hiding under the bed or in the cupboard – it may be a dark corner in their room creating unnerving shadows that’s making them anxious. Ask what they think might make them feel less afraid – for some kids it will be leaving their bedroom door ajar with the passageway light on, others might want a comfort item or night light.
See it for yourself
Sit in your child’s darkened room with them so you can see first-hand what you’re dealing with. Perhaps there really is something in the room – like a chair – that casts a creepy shadow or looks like an intruder.
Is it the light-to-dark transition that scares them?
Some kids get spooked by the light suddenly being turned off because they can’t see as their eyes adjust to the dark. One solution is to tell your child to close their eyes when you turn the lights off – they should count to 10 then slowly open their eyes and let them adjust to the new light levels.
Try a night light
A lot of kids will feel comforted if they wake up and can see what’s going on in their room. You don’t want anything too bright, they need just enough light to provide comfort. Beware of night lights that project moving shapes around the room – these look like fun but may actually scare your child more than a static light.
Don’t let them get into bed with you
You’re likely just encouraging a new bad habit. And by letting them sleep with you ‘for protection’ you’re actually giving them a chance to escape confronting their fears rather than encouraging them to face them. At the same time, acknowledge their bravery when it’s warranted: if your little one made it through the night without crying or having to climb into your bed, applaud them for it. It may seem like a small victory to you but it’s a big deal for them.
Will they grow out of it?
Most kids will grow out of a fear of the dark by the time they are about 8 or 9 – especially if you actively work towards helping them get over the fear by using these strategies.