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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.

Fear of the Dark: Dos and Don’ts continued...

Do support your child. “Kids regress at night,” Dobbins says. “You may hear, ‘I want mommy,’ so let him know that this is OK, and you are there to help if he needs it.”

Don’t do sleepovers. Although it may be tempting to let your little one crawl into bed with you, resist the urge. “You still have to keep the boundaries that work for you and give your child the tools to cope with her fear,” Berman says. And that goes for siblings, too.

“It’s not your other child’s job to take care of his sibling,” Berman tells WebMD. “It’s your job as a parent, so trying to solve the problem by doing sleepovers in a sibling’s room isn’t the answer.”

Do empower your child. Give your child the power to tackle a fear of the dark. “Ask her if she wants daddy to check on her -- and let her decide what time makes her most secure,” Berman says. “Does she want to be checked on in 5 minutes, 2 hours? Whatever will help her feel better.”

And arm her with her comfort items, whether it’s a blanket, a stuffed animal, or a night-light, to help her sleep soundly.

Don’t play into the fear of the dark. “Don’t say to your child, ‘Let me make sure there aren’t any monsters under the bed,’” Dobbins says. “Or, ‘If you are a good boy, the monsters will go away.’ You are giving him the idea that his fear has credibility, and he won’t be able to get over it until he understands it honestly.” So when you check the closet for him, it’s to show him his clothes and shoes, not to make sure there aren’t any monsters.

Do make bedtime soothing. Television is a no-go at nighttime, and so are scary books, both experts say. Instead, focus on something relaxing, like some one-on-one time with your child.

Don’t ignore a larger problem.Stress in general, like divorce, the death of a pet, or the birth of a baby, can throw anyone off kilter and increase the risk for anxiety, even kids. As a result, that anxiety can appear at night as a fear of the dark, Dobbins says. If there are family issues at play, talk to your pediatrician and see whether it might be helpful for your child to talk to a counselor.

Do get help.  With the support of an understanding parent, most kids can get over a fear of the dark in a few weeks. But if the fear lasts longer, Dobbins says it’s time for a conversation with your pediatrician to determine if its worthwhile for your child to get some help.

Reviewed on October 19, 2011

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