“Mom, don’t turn the lights out. I’m scared of the dark.” Sound familiar? We chatted with experts who gave us genius tips on how to help your child overcome their nighttime fears.
“Fear of the dark is a normal developmental challenge and, although it is most typical for younger children (ages 3 to 6), even tweens and teens (and adults) can be afraid of what’s under the bed or going into a dark room,” says psychologist and author Tamar Chansky. “While some kids may outgrow the fear, many carry it throughout their life.”
So, what can you do?
Plan a camping trip in your child’s room
Chansky says the best way to practice being in the dark is by doing something fun in the dark — such as a camping trip with flashlights. “Hide glow-in-the-dark items from the dollar store that your child can find. Let your child be a ‘tour guide’ and have them walk down a darkish hall and show you a tour,” she says. “The ‘title’ of tour guide will help your child feel more confident about being in the semi-dark.”
Get them a pet fish (or hamster or dog)
“Determine if it is fear of the dark or the child just not wanting to be alone,” says play therapist Tammi Van Hollander, who says this is the reason many kids end up in their parents’ bed. If this is the case, many experts suggest getting your child a companion, such as a pet fish, hamster or dog to help them feel not so alone at night. You can also consider having siblings share the same room if it promotes better sleep at night.
Help your child banish their fears by spraying Monster Spray, says Van Hollander, who says it is also important to emphasize to your child know that monsters are not real. “They feel real in their imagination. By quieting their worries they feel safe,” she says.
She suggests filling a bottle with calming lavender scented water or even lavender Febreze and spray it wherever they are scared, such as the dark corner, under the bed or closet. Not only does this let the child see there is nothing under the bed or in the closet, but everyone knows monsters hate lavender spray, right?
Ease up on the lights, gradually
“Many children with this fear end up convincing their parents to sleep with the room ablaze with the overhead light, the hall light and the bathroom light on,” says Chansky. “This isn’t good for sleeping, but it also doesn’t give the child the opportunity to see how their eyes will adjust to darkness within a few minutes. Work towards using less intense light bulbs, and then to night-lights, eventually using just one.”
Give them a flashlight
“Flashlights are very helpful for kids as they can control the light in their room,” says Van Hollander. “Let them know it is a special flashlight and monsters or whatever is scaring them will disappear because they do not like the light of the flashlight.”
The Twilight Turtle
Angela Todd said the Cloud B Twilight Turtle helped her child overcome a fear of the dark because it casts a sky of stars on the ceiling — and it has a timer that turns off automatically. This plush toy, which also comes with a flashlight, would be a comforting way to help your child feel safe and secure at night.
Pick the right bedtime book
There are so many great children’s books that help put their mind at ease in a way that they understand. My kids love The Moon in My Room (which includes a built-in night light). Todd says some of her favorites include Franklin in the Dark, The Berenstain Bears in the Dark and Dr. Seuss’s What Was I Scared of? Even watching movies, such as Monsters, Inc., that address this fear of the dark can help.
Have teddy bear stand guard
Put your child’s favorite teddy bear to work. “Having teddy bears stand guard can also create a feeling of safety while mommy and daddy are sleeping,” says Chansky.
“Have your child list the fears, then ask her, ‘What do really think is going to happen? Do you really think that is true?'” says Chansky. “Even a young child can do this via finger puppets, [while] older children can just say the fears and facts or write them down side by side. Seeing the facts vs. the fears, the child will use his smart brain to outsmart his worry.”
Use glow-in-the-dark art
Use glow-in-the-dark art on your children’s walls, so they have fun images to concentrate on as they drift off to sleep, says Denise Martin. One great option is the Glow-in-the-Dark Celestial Peel & Stick Wall Decals (walmart.com, $10).