Almost all children become afraid of the dark at some point – usually around the age of 2-6 years old. At that time their imaginations are running wild and they also become more aware of the greater world and the dangers that lurk within it. I always think about how much safer I feel with my husband sleeping next to me before I judge kids on being afraid of sleeping alone!
There are two ways to handle this, based on your own preference…
You can let your child sleep in your room. It may take some time to get her out again though – possibly years depending on personality – but I guarantee that you will not have a 16 year-old who is still sleeping in your room.
The other option is to brainstorm with your child. It goes like this:
- Acknowledge her feelings and give her a chance to explore them deeper. Let her know that you understand it can be scary being in the dark. Speak less and listen more. Let her tell you just how afraid she is. Often, if the bad feelings are given a chance to be heard they go away on their own. Never, ever dismiss the feeling by telling her not to be scared.
- Let her know (briefly) how you feel – that you don’t sleep as well when she’s in your room, that you also need time with the other parent, that being woken up at night makes you tired and grumpy, etc.
- Brainstorm ways to sort out the problem. Write down ALL ideas without evaluating them at all. Let her start and give more answers than you. ALL ideas are accepted at this point (even if she says she wants to sleep in your room and you are not ok with that).
- Evaluate the things you’ve written down and come up with workable solutions. Let her start by rejecting one or two of your ideas first. If she has some ideas that are unacceptable to you (e.g. sleeping with all the lights in the house on) then let her know why it wouldn’t work (it would cost too much) and then see if you can modify the idea into a workable solution (e.g. Having automatic lights with sensors that turn on if she walks to the bathroom).
There are many ideas that you can add to the list (but, again, let her come up with some ideas before you contribute)…
- Having a baby monitor so you can hear her if there’s an issue.
- Letting her snuggle with something of yours that smells like you (e.g. your dressing gown)
- Drawing a picture of the thing in the dark that is scaring her and burning it
- Getting a dream catcher or special teddy to protect her
- Having a monster hunt before bed
- Have a “dark survival” kit next to her bed (include a torch, magic wand, music box, etc.)
But most important is to acknowledge her fear as real for her. She is not trying to be difficult.
I would add to this by playing games in the dark (like making shadow puppets with a torch) or doing fun activities such as marshmallow braais so that she starts enjoying the dark.
You can also read books about how other kids have overcome the dark. My favourite is “The Dark” by Lemony Snicket http://www.takealot.com/the-dark-lemony-snicket-and-jon-klassen/PLID35350525
And definitely avoid scary movies / books / etc. particularly before bed