Updated: Feb 6, 2021
If your child is expressing fear in the middle of the night, know that this is not uncommon. Nightmares and fear of the dark typically begin at age 2 when a child starts developing an imagination and nightmares typically peak from ages 3-6. Night-time fears can lead to delays in bedtime and overnight waking’s, which can lead to an over-tired child.
Let’s talk a little bit about how you can support your child through their fear of the dark.
1) Validate your child’s feelings
Avoid responding by telling your child that they are ok or brushing off their fears. This will leave your child feeling like they are not understood. Let them know that it is normal to feel scared, and that you are there for them.
I suggest maybe telling them about a time that you had a fear and how you got over it. Empathize with them, and be there to problem-solve with them and find a solution to their fears. Allow your child to take the lead as much as possible in coming up with solutions.
What children need is to feel safe to experience and share their feelings. In the end, we cannot stop children from having an imagination or fix their fears. Instead, we should be there to provide the facts about what is not real, and to help them feel understood so that they can move on from those emotions.
2) Talk openly about your child’s fears
If your child is open to talking about his or her fears, it might be helpful to talk about them and explore them in the daytime, such as the fear of shadows. If your child is expressing a fear of monsters, have a talk with them about how monsters are only on TV but never in real life.
It might be helpful to ask your child what they are most worried about. This might bring up some truth to their fears and therefore, giving you some ideas on how you can problem- solve with them to diminish or eliminate those fears.
3) Avoid bringing your child into your bedroom in the middle of the night
Bringing your child into your room only confirms the fear. Let your child know that it is okay to be scared and that they are always safe. You can say something like “I hear that you are feeling scared. You are always safe here at home. It is time for sleep. I will see you in the morning. I love you”. You can repeat this mantra as much as needed throughout the night.
Ensure that you state the boundary, bring them right back to bed, welcome the feeling that they are experiencing by validating their emotions, and help them cope in a way that works for them.
You can brainstorm coping strategies that might empower your child, such as ...
-Taking deep breaths when they are scared
-Hugging their teddy
-Listening to relaxing music
4) Limit media consumption
Watch out for what your child is watching. Sometimes children are watching certain shows or movies that are contributing to their fears. Try minimizing their use of screens to see if the fears diminish.
Lastly, avoid acting as if there is something to be scared of. Checking underneath the bed and using monster sprays only confirms the fear and feeds into it. In the past, I have seen this cause bigger delays at bedtime.
Know that most children will overcome their fears with the support of an understanding parent. If you need support with your child’s night-time fears, sleep habits or overall challenging behaviour, please reach out to us and we will find a package and level of support that is right for you.