How to Help Kids Who Are Afraid of the Dark

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Lately, my preschooler has announced that he is afraid of the dark…and bedtime has been more of a challenge.  I know that kiddos go through different phases at different times, and I figured that some other kids and parents must be going through the same thing.  Today, I’d like to talk about how to help kids who are afraid of the dark…and also ask our readers to share their tips!

child-afraid-of-dark

First, let me start by saying that it just breaks my heart to see the fear in my little man’s eyes once the lights go out. We’re not really sure what’s triggered this recent struggle, but for him it is real.  We’ve tried several different approaches with him (some have worked, some haven’t), and I’ve also informally polled some of my close mama friends.  Here’s what I’ve found helps my son…

Acknowledge their fear

For us, it seemed like this fear came out of no where.  One night he was absolutely fine, the next night he was upset and afraid.  We couldn’t figure out what had scared him or prompted this fear of the dark in the last 24 hours, so we didn’t really know how to handle it.  We responded with a big hug and a kiss, and an  “It’s fine sweetie, you’re fine.  Just close your eyes and go to sleep.”  This did not go over well.  The more we didn’t address his fear, the more agitated he seemed to get.

Whatever was scaring him about the dark was real to him, even though he couldn’t quite articulate it.  I think it’s important to acknowledge their fear to:

1.) Show you are listening and understand their problem.

2.) You are validating that they really are scared of something and that you will do everything you can to help them.  This went a long way with our little man.

“What’s so scary?”

This seems like a no-brainer, right?  And at first, our son couldn’t really pinpoint what was bothering him so much.  It was just “the dark.”  We we wracking our brains for what it could be – did he accidentally see something scary on TV?  Was there talk on the playground that triggered a fear?  Did he see something in a book?  With kids, sometimes there is no rhyme or reason…

So instead of accepting “the dark,” as the reason, we kept working with him to figure out what went wrong…spending extra time with him during the day when he wasn’t scared and panicked at bedtime.

A couple of days in, he finally shared that he was scared of.

#1 – FIRE

He had seen Big Hero 6 a few months ago, and the fire scene where a building on fire explodes apparently really freaked him out. Months later.  Who knew?!

#2 – SNAKES

We still haven’t figured out the source of this one.

#3 – LONELINESS  

He was lonely and wanted someone to sleep in the room with him (not in his bed – just nearby).

Okay, we can work with this.  So I encourage you to keep talking to your kiddo during the day about their fear – ask questions – if they are old enough, have them draw you a picture…whatever works.  Keep at it until you figure it out.  And you know what?  It may just simply be “the dark.”  And that’s okay, too.

Scaring the “scaries” away

This can definitely be tailored to your kiddos individual needs.  I’ve started a list of what helps our little one, and I’d love to hear your ideas, too!

– We have had success with good old-fashioned deep breathing, hugs and extra TLC.

– Put a night light in their room.  We actually have a little mini handheld “cool to touch” night light from Brookstone that works well for him…and he keeps it by his bed.

– He wants his door all the way open.  We thought for sure the white noise from us and the house would keep him up…but surprisingly, he felt comforted knowing mom and dad were close.  Whatever works.

– We gave him a new special stuffed animal (you could make this a blankie, lovey, whatever) just for bedtime.  It is there to help “protect him,” and he seems to love it.  I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing in the long run, but right now it’s helping.  Back to…whatever works.

– Do a room check before lights go out.  Have your kiddo help you look under the bed, in their closet, dresser drawers, whatever.  This might help them feel more secure knowing their room is “clear” before lights go out.

– A spray bottle.  Let me explain.  Take an empty spray bottle, fill it with water, and make a cute label for it.  Explain this spray is to keep the…monsters, snakes, boogie man, etc. away.  Have them have access to the spray bottle…or if you’re worried about them dousing themselves or their beds, you can help them spray the room before bedtime.

And, if water is really an issue, don’t fill it with anything.  Tell them it is a special “magical” mixture.  Get creative – lol!

– Pillow pets.  I’m sure you’ve seen them…they are those cute little animals shaped in the size of a small pillow that can light up.  Kids can snuggle them, or put them on their bed.  Some even project stars on the ceiling – check out this cute penguin on Amazon (affiliate)!   Both of my kids have these Pillow Pets Dream Lites, and love them.

– Hello baby monitor – again.  I had another parent suggest re-installing an old baby monitor.  You can let your child know that you can hear everything going on in his room, and you will be there on the double if they need you.  And you can show them how the monitor works.

Educating them

Taking this one step further, if you can really identify what’s freaking them out about the dark (i.e. fire and snakes for our son), you can help educate them and talk them through what’s so scary.  One of my dear mama friends and favorite teachers was helping me brainstorm some of the ways I could help our little guy, and I thought the education part could be applied to anything.

For example, she suggested that I take my son to the fire department for a tour.  Let him see the fire truck and all of the equipment, talk to the firefighters, and ask questions.  She even said there were some stickers we can place in each of our bedroom windows to alert firefighters how many rooms are occupied with people (note to self – get these stickers – great idea!).

At home, my husband showed him how our smoke detector worked and set it off so our son could hear the beeping noise.

Oh, and we also explained what snakes eat.  And little boys were not on the menu.

Point is, if you can help your child communicate what they are afraid of, you can talk with them and educate them…and hopefully, it may help lesson their anxiety.  It’s worth a shot, right?!

What are some of your tips and tricks?  If you have a great idea, please share below!  I’d love to hear from you.

7 Comments

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7
  1. 1
    Suzanne says:

    Love this post! Random…my son has developed the same fears in the past few weeks. Thanks a lot BIg Hero 6! The snakes are random for us too….he’s been falling asleep with the door open and light TOTALLY on the we come in after he’s asleep and turn the light off. Being a very scared kid as a child, I feel for him!! Praying its a phase and he’s over it soon for you!

    • 2
      christy says:

      Awwww, poor kid! I feel for him…and you, mama!!! It’s so heartbreaking to see. Praying both our boys grow out of this phase soon! XO

  2. 3
    Jen says:

    I also have found finding out / getting to the bottom of what scares them is the best. I tell my girls, whatever it is it is scarier in your head, but once you say it out loud, it will disappear. That really helps. I have them picture saying what scares them and picture the words dissolving in the air. I think getting them to talk is the #1 most important thing!

    • 4
      Christy says:

      Jen – I totally agree! Love the idea that once you say it outloud, it goes away…and love the visual. I’ll try this, thanks!!

  3. 5
    tamara t says:

    thank you for this post…my 5 year old son recetly developed a fear of the slender man…he told me he was so scared he couldnt fall asleep 🙁 we talked about it and why he thought it was scary. I assured him it wasnt real and we even googled the story behind this slender man together and found out that it was made up just recently..i suggested that everytime he remembers the slender man that he picture him wearing a silly princess dress or a goofy costume and he couldnt stop laughing..he even added bringing superman and spiderman into the picture to scare the slender man away 🙂 hugging, kissing and story telling before bed are all a must anyway and they all help him fall asleep feelig safe 🙂

    • 6
      jen says:

      i love that idea! thank you for sharing!

  4. 7
    Claire says:

    Some great ideas, thanks for sharing. My 3 year old was waking at night and I got a magic potion (small bottle is a nice shape with water in it). We sprinkle it every night whilst saying “monsters away” in a dramatic voice. After a few weeks of this we’ve introduced a game where we say Daddy away, daddy comeback and he runs in and out of the room. I think she goes to bed happy and distracted from the monsters. Associated I think with the game she feels more in control

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