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My Child is Afraid of the Dark

April 16, 2012 | By | 4 Replies More

“I heard something outside my window.” 

“Will you stay with me? I’m scared.” 

“There’s a monster under my bed!”

Fear of the dark in children is extremely common. If you have a little one, you have likely had to address bedtime fears at one point or another.  Here are some information and simple tips to help you intervene effectively.

Child afraid of dark

Find the underlying cause

  • Some kids are just the sensitive, fearful type.  You may have sheltered your son from scary movies and books, but for some reason, he is still afraid at night.  It might just be the way he came “wired.” These children can benefit from a regular bedtime routine, self soothing techniques and prayer.
  • Some children have been exposed to too much. Keep a critical eye on what your children watch and hear.  As adults we have become so desensitized to violence that we may not even notice it anymore.  Our children have not developed any emotional calluses yet, so we need to be extremely careful in this area. When in doubt, turn it off.
  • Some children may have an underlying anxiety disorder.  These children will likely display anxiety across the board, however, not just at bedtime.  Any anxiety that impairs everyday functioning and/or has been present for 6 months or more should be looked into by your pediatrician or a trusted counselor.
  • Some children may have something on their minds that is magnified by the quiet isolation of bedtime.  Talk calmly with your kids (but not at bedtime) to see if they are having any issues at school or with friends.
  • Some children like control. Although less common, some children create drama at bedtime in an attempt to maintain control.  These children need to be dealt with in a very calm, matter-of-fact manner.  Give 1 or 2 “get out of bed free” tickets at the beginning of bed time.  Once they are all used up, don’t interact any more until morning.

Don’t Make a Mountain Out of a Mole Hill

Some parents, in an effort to calm their child’s fears, will grab a flashlight and search every corner of the room for monsters.  Some even set up “monster traps” or “ghost repellants” to keep scary night visitors at bay.  The problem with this approach is that by scanning the room for things that go bump, you are actually telling your child that monsters really do exist.  When they see you going to great lengths to “protect” them, you are giving support to the notion that they need protecting.

Simply say, “I know you feel scared. And even though monsters feel real, they are not. Let’s ask God to help us figure this out.” Then consider implementing some of the suggestions below.

Think Outside the Box

For some reason, we have come to think that all children should sleep in the dark and quiet with the door closed.  Erase all of those preconceived notions and think outside the box.  Here are some proven tips that can help assuage bedtime fears:

  • Keep the closet open and the light on.  If you are worried about your electricity bill, switch to fluorescent light bulbs.
  • Play calming music.  You can play soft and soothing music (let the child pick) as she falls asleep.  It will drown out ambient noise and give her something to focus on besides the dreaded monster outside her window.  Turn it off once she is asleep.
  • Give him a flashlight. Having control over the darkness can be comforting to a child.  A flashlight and a bedtime children’s Bible make great bedtime companions.

Just keep in mind, that these issues are likely temporary.  Address them with love, compassion and consistency and you will find that they will resolve on their own.

[Photo credit: marce from morguefile.com]

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Category: Ages & Stages, Ages 0-4, Ages 5-10, Featured Articles

Laura Kuehn, LCSW

About the Author

Laura Kuehn, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in children and families. CfP is the place she combines some of her very favorite things: writing, parenting and God's word. She loves encouraging parents to build their families upon Jesus, the one true Cornerstone. She is happily married to a wonderfully supportive husband and is the mother of two delightfully inspiring children.

Comments (4)

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  1. Thanks for this good advice.

    Here is a week long lesson plan I did with my children to help them with their fears. It is centered around Psalm 56:3 ‘What time I am afraid I will trust in God’. There is power in the Word! http://www.trainupthechild.org/2012/03/20/trust/

    • Thank you Sheilah! God’s word is the very best comfort for our fears. Parents who want even more tips from the Bible on how to deal with a child who worries can click here.

      Blessings to you and yours,
      ~Laura

  2. Janice says:

    I love your article and particularly like your advice about not giving conflicting messages by checking for monsters etc. Also wanted to add that the stories on the Little Children Big Dreams website are a great resource for families which have been written by a Child Psychiatrist for kids who are afraid of the dark or scared of monsters. We used one for our daughter and it just worked so well. Her story was personalized with her details then we printed it off as a PDF file for her to illustrate with her own pictures. The parent guide which Dr Henderson has written to accompany the story teaches how to approach your child’s story with them and how to talk to them about their fears and their pictures. I wanted to pass on the details in case it helps other tired families! Thanks.

    • Hi Janice –
      Thank you for this helpful link. I got a chance to visit the site and read a bit about the author’s approach in the stories. I like how she uses Cognitive Behavioral methods to address fears through personalized bibliotherapy. How creative! Thanks again for stopping by and adding the additional information for parents.

      God bless,
      ~Laura

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