We know that children need complete darkness to fall asleep, stay asleep, and sustain their melatonin production (a hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness). So, what do you do if your child has a fear of the dark?
Fear of the dark is one that typically develops in children around ages 2 or 3 when they begin to develop a sense of imagination. Their little minds are becoming more and more creative, and, yet, they are unable to differentiate fantasy from reality. This is where the fear of the dark can begin to intrude on what should be a peaceful slumber, day or night.
To help your precious little one put his or her active mind at ease and become more relaxed as bedtime approaches, follow these simple Dos and Don’ts.
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What to Do If Your Child Has a Fear of the Dark
Focus on the positives of bedtime:
- Create a soothing bedtime routine and remember to keep it light and fun! This will allow your little one to relax and be in a calmer state as you approach sleep.
- Add white noise to help muddle out any background noise that may frighten them. This can be a highly beneficial tool if you live in an older house with creaky stairs or a loud furnace, if you live on a busy street, or if other ambient noises are keeping your baby up at night.
- Reassure your child that “this house is safe, and so are you.” This gives your little one the confidence of sleeping in a safe environment and that you support them in their fear.
- If your little one is prone to nightmares or night terrors, implement an earlier bedtime. It is important to be protective of their sleep and ensure they are going to bed without becoming overtired.
What Not to Do If Your Child Has a Fear of the Dark
It is important not to encourage the fear:
- Stay clear of reinforcing the behaviour. When you tell your little one you will check for monsters under their bed or in their closet, or use a monster spray to rid the bad guys; this only validates their fear.
- Avoid reading bedtime stories or watching shows or movies that may have frightful pictures or contain a scary storyline.
- Turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime. Displays on iPads, iPods, iPhones, laptops, and TVs all emit blue light, which is the highest frequency of light and stimulates the front part of the brain. It inhibits the production of melatonin, in turn, delaying the onset of sleep by up to 45 minutes.
Say “Goodbye” to the Fear of the Dark
While it is not uncommon for children to develop a fear of the dark simply because of their growingly active imagination, there may be a more significant situation at play here, like a life event (birth of a sibling, death in the family, divorce) or other major life transition that can cause anxiety. If these factors have been ruled out, with your encouragement and support, you can empower your little one to promote sweet dreams and have a peaceful night’s rest ahead!