Helping Children Who Are Scared of the Dark
It’s perfectly normal for young children to be scared of certain things as they adjust to a world full of new experiences, thoughts and feelings. Separation anxiety is very common as children learn to settle and sleep through the night on their own and this can be compounded by a fear of the dark.
Not only are young children very creative and imaginative, but they can also struggle to separate what’s real from what’s not. When little ones are in darkness and can’t see their surroundings they can quickly imagine all manner of ghouls and monsters lurking in cupboards or lying in wait under the bed.
Most children are exposed to a certain amount of frightening images, no matter how hard we try to shield them from such things. We pass newsstands, movie posters, Halloween props and any other number of things from which a mere glimpse can form terrifying fuel for a child’s imagination.
As normal as these fears and feelings are, it can become worrisome when they impact on a child’s sleep quality and their ability to function and learn during the day. Of course, it is important to rule out any genuine traumatic experiences that may be causing a child’s anxieties and fears, but if it’s a standard ‘scared of the dark’ or ‘monsters in the closet’ situation, there is plenty we can do as parents to offer our help and support.
Some Tips & Tricks to Deal with Night Time Collywobbles
- Always take your child’s fears seriously. Do not play into their fears, but do not dismiss them as ‘being silly’ either. Respect and recognise their feelings. “I can understand that you might think the dark cupboard is a scary place, but I can show you it is just boring clothes and shoes… see!”
- Turn on a lamp or use a torch to show your little one just how mundane that dark corner is, or that there’s nothing under the bed, save for perhaps a little dust!
- Explain to your little one just how amazing their imagination can be. This will help them to understand why they are able to make-up such frightening shapes and forms from shadows and darkness.
- Play some games to demonstrate this by imagining shapes in the clouds, making animals out of doodles or creating shadows with a lamp. Teach your child how easy it is to imagine wonderful things instead of scary things.
- Read stories and play make-believe with friendly monsters, have your child play the friendly monster, they can hide in the closet or under the bed. This will associate positive play with these areas, instead of negative thoughts and fears.
- Never forget to reach into the best parenting resource that you have – your own memories. What worked (or didn’t work) for you when you were scared of something?
Most of all just remember to communicate openly with your little one, ask them about their fears and encourage them to talk to you about whatever is on their mind when going to bed at night. If you need to use a nightlight in your child’s room for a while, especially while they building confidence and resilience, it’s really not the end of the world, just try to use a timer or switch it off once they are sleeping safe and sound.
At Cherry Bridge Station we encourage young children to learn through imaginative play, focusing the majority of our preschool curriculum around hands-on, activity-based learning.
Here children can explore and let their imaginations run wild, all while in a safe environment full of educational resources to call on.