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Fear of the Dark

Lots of kids are afraid of the dark. Whether it’s the boogeyman in the closet or a monster under the bed that’s haunting them, here’s how parents can help their kids conquer their fears.

Where Fear of the Dark Comes From continued...

“Most parents don’t limit what their kids are watching on TV,” Dobbins tells WebMD. “For instance, a young child, in a room watching TV with an older sibling, might be watching something totally age-inappropriate.”

Whether it’s a violent news story or even a popular cartoon program, both experts say that TV can give kids plenty of ammunition when it comes to fear.

Books are also culpable in creating nighttime havoc for a kid, Berman says.

The images can be intimidating and provoke already active imaginations, stirring up all sorts of ideas that can come back to haunt a child who is lying alone in the dark. From drawings of monsters to fairy tales and witches, kids can misinterpret images and conjure up fears that an adult might not recognize.

And surprisingly, another culprit when it comes to nighttime fears is a well-intended parent who tells a child, “You better behave, or the boogeyman will get you,” Dobbins says. Although it might seem like light-hearted discipline, this simple phrase can instill a solid case of nighttime heebie-jeebies for a kid.

“While most kids will have some degree of a fear of the dark as they’re growing up for whatever reason, the good news is, it can be solved,” Dobbins says.

Fear of the Dark: Dos and Don’ts

The best thing a parent can do for a child with a fear of the dark is to communicate, be respectful, and show that you understand.

“If you’ve been communicating with them from the start, they can understand when you talk to them about their fear of the dark,” Berman says. “And be respectful -- don’t tell them their fear is silly, because not only does it not help and they’re still scared, but now they feel guilty and ashamed, too.”

From calm, cool, and collected to recognizing something more is at play, here are dos and don’ts to fighting nighttime fears:

Do stay calm. “Be as calm as possible when you’re talking to your child about her fear of the dark,” Dobbins says. “Listen and make sure you don’t exaggerate and exacerbate to make it worse.”

Give the child a sense that she is safe, that she can handle her fear, Dobbins says. And give the fear a name. Explain to your child what fear is, and help her understand it’s normal.

Don’t get frustrated. “Reassure your child that his fear of the dark is normal,” Dobbins says. “But don’t get frustrated just because you know what he’s afraid of doesn’t really exist. Don’t say this is stupid or belittle or tease. While the monsters may not be real, the fear is.”

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