How to help little ones conquer night-time fears

By Drum Digital
31 July 2014

Whether it’s the boogeyman in the closet, a monster under the bed or simply a fear of the dark, here’s some practical advice to help your little ones conquer their night-time fears.

A SuperMom in our Facebook community recently said her five-year-old son never minded going to bed with the lights off, but is suddenly so scared of the dark he won’t even enter a room on his own and insists on sleeping in his sister’s room.

Why it happens

“It’s normal for a child to be afraid of the dark, monsters or ghosts,” says Dr Rinda Blom, a child therapist in Bloemfontein. “Luckily a fear of the dark decreases as the child gets older.”

Between the ages of about two and six “imaginations can run wild”. Although it's mostly a good thing it can also make your child anxious about an array of things. That's because kids at this stage are becoming increasingly complex thinkers.

For example, while a preschooler might be afraid of the dark because he thinks there's a monster under his bed, a seven-year-old-who understands that monsters don't exist may be frightened a burglar will break into the house during the night and harm him in some way.

Children with a sensitive temperament are also likely to become more anxious. “These children will often request a night-light to be turned on because of something that happened during the day that’s making him feel anxious,” says Blom.

It’s important for parents to help their child to deal with fear by taking their feelings seriously, encouraging them to talk about their anxieties, telling them the facts and giving them the opportunity to confront their fears at their own pace and with support.

What to do about it

  • Listen and understand: Try to understand your child’s fears. Don’t dismiss or make fun of them.

  • Reassure them with concrete information: It’s important to reassure your child if they’re afraid. Communicate the idea of safety over and over again.
  • Try a compromise: A night-light can go a long way towards melting a child's fears. Or consider leaving their door slightly ajar and the hall light on.
  • Change your child’s imagination: If your child is convinced there's a troll in the closet or a monster under the bed, perform a search. You can also appoint a favourite toy to stand guard, or give your child a lucky charm that will fight off monsters and keep them away.
  • Ban scary TV shows, movies and books: Keep your little one away from scary TV shows, videos or stories that may add to their fears.

  • Have fun in the dark: Make being in the dark fun by building a fort or playing flashlight tag.

  • Applaud bravery: Make a big deal when your child confronts their fear — no matter how small the step, it’s a step into the right direction.

-Janine Nel

Sources: parents.com, supernanny.co.uk

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