Disclosure: I have received products for the purpose of review to facilitate this post. All opinions contained in this post are my own.
My oldest son is afraid of the dark. Every night we go through the same song and dance:
Buddy: Can you leave the light on?
Me: Just for 5 minutes.
Buddy: But I am afraid of the sharks and bears!
Me: We don’t live near sharks OR bears.
Since I know professionals say I AM supposed to validate their fears, we talk about how sharks and bears can be scary animals, but the likelihood of Buddy encountering one of these animals, especially in his bedroom, is fairly small. It probably doesn’t help to comfort him that I don’t use night lights in the house because they have been oft cited as burn and fire hazards. However, I do leave the hall light on for comfort as he is first falling asleep. Here are some tips of things I have found successful for helping my child overcome his fear of the dark:
1. Set a Comforting Routine
Have a routine that you do every night that comforts your child. In our house it is (1) bath, (2) brush teeth, (3) 2 books, (4) kisses, hugs, and a secret handshake, and (5) a message for the baby (the kids say things like “When you grow up I will teach you to play Hot Wheels” and “I want you to sleep in my room when you grow up.”) With this comforting routine, kids make the connection that step 6 is “go to bed and not get eaten by sharks or bears.”
2. Chase Fireflies
From late spring through early fall, we take opportunities to run around the yard chasing fireflies (technically here in PA we call them “lightning bugs”, but fireflies sounds more eloquent, right?). By chasing fireflies, the boys have positive experiences in the dark, ones we hope will carry over to their nighttime routine.
3. Provide Glow-in-the-Dark Toys
Glow in the dark toys can be a great motivator for kids who are scared of the dark. For example, when The Learning Journey sent me their Glow in the Dark Wildlife Puzzle for the boys to try, they could not WAIT for it to get dark. This two-sided 100 piece puzzle has a regular scene on one side and a special glow-in-the-dark, black and white design on the other. My 5 and 3 year olds had an easy time figuring out the regular side, but the black and white outline added another challenge. Therefore, they built the puzzle with the colorful side first, then we flipped it over to “charge up” the glow-in-the-dark side in the daylight. We put the puzzle in their room, and the glow of the puzzle comforted the boys. I definitely recommend this toy – it combines learning, science, and nighttime comfort.
4. Find a Security Object
Security objects comfort my boys when they feel scared, especially in the dark or when they are in a new place. Both boys have stuffed animals and “blankies” that they bring to bed with them. It helps to start kids early (as infants) with exposure to their comfort items so that they create an attachment. Of course never, ever leave a baby unattended with a blanket or stuffed animal.
5. Reinforce the Behaviors You Want
If you want your child to go bed without screaming his head off, start a reward chart. I drew a game board on a piece of paper and each morning that he work up in his room (i.e., not in my bed) he received a sticker. He was motivated to “win” his self-chosen prize at the end, and within the month, his nighttime creeping was no longer a problem.