The fear of the dark

Imagination is a wonderful thing – except when you are three years old in a dark room and you can hear something scraping against the window. If the sun was shining, even a toddler would work out that it was just a branch moving in the wind but, after dark, and especially after a couple of hours of peppery television, it’s not surprising if monsters and bogey men are more likely explanations.

Of course, fear of the dark is irrational and silly, but I have too many silly irrational fears of my own to go mocking anyone else’s phobias. Many kids suffer from it, but there are a few things you can do to lay their fears, and the children themselves, to rest. First, cut off the fuel. No joke threats about bogey men, and especially no scary TV or books in the evenings. Calm, relaxing activities before bed and a reassuring bed-time routine help a lot.

If your child does suffer from fear of the dark, tell them what the real problem is. It’s fear, so tell them about fear. It’s normal. It’s a feeling. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at the right time – and you can cope with it. Don’t mock their imagination, but don’t play up to it either by pretending to chase away monsters. Let them see your calmness with darkness as well – in fact, planning a trip outside to see some stars or play with torches can be a wonderful way to let them know that darkness isn’t just okay, it can even be fun.

Let them have some comforts – a cuddly toy and night light. If they want a light on while they fall asleep I can’t see much harm in that. Ask if they want you to check in on them – that can be very reassuring. But discourage letting them jump into your bed or anyone else’s. If the problem is stubborn or severe, I’d get a bit of help from a counsellor on what some people call extinction therapy – a gradual confidence building process to extinguish the fear.

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John Cowan

Writer, speaker and broadcaster, John Cowan shares his insight and opinions about the latest in parenting and family news in New Zealand. Hear John speak on radio stations every week throughout the country and regularly on national TV.  Follow @JohnCowanNZ on Twitter

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