How to Handle it when Your Child Won’t Sleep in the Dark

By Marcia Hall

Every child has their own unique sensitivities. One child may act shy when introduced to new people, while another child may dislike getting dirty. If your child is sensitive to darkness, you can rest assured that she is not alone.

Sensitivity to darkness is often thought of as a fear, and can easily become a fear when children’s emotions about being in and sleeping in the dark are not taken seriously. This issue can stem from many things. Educators commonly note that children who have an apprehension of the dark tend to be very creative, free thinkers. It may be that this creative thinking starts working overtime when darkness hits, causing the child to imagine the worst. There are a few things you can do to help calm the tension.

Accept it. The most harmful thing you can do to a child that shows fear of the dark is to tell her that she has nothing to fear. It may be unlikely that bad things would actually happen in her room; however, she feels this fear very strongly. When the people that she loves and trusts the most ignore this fear and act as if it’s trivial, she then has even more to be afraid of.

Validate her concern. You certainly don’t want to scare her, but you can ask her to tell you exactly what she thinks might happen when the lights turn off. She may not want to or be able to tell you right away, but with consistent gentle care you may be able to get her to open up about her concerns. Note that even if she does open up and share some great big fear, simply telling her that it will not happen is unlikely to do much to alleviate her fear of the dark. Her sensitivity may get better, but it is likely to remain for some time and possibly be replaced by yet another concern. Remember that children who fear the dark tend to be very observant and have great memories. They may always find something to worry about.

Reassure her. Let her know that even though there are scary things in the world, you have worked hard to create a safe place for her in your home and in her room. While you can’t really promise that nothing bad will ever happen to her, you can reassure her that you are there for her and will do everything in your power to protect her and make sure she is safe. Let her know that if she ever needs you, she can call on you. Then back it up by responding to her needs, because she will test you.

Keep the room clutter free. Often times, the thing that scares children the most at night in their rooms are all the clothes, toys and other things that create shadows and become unrecognizable in the dark. You can help create a comfortable place by cleaning up clutter before bedtime. Hang clothes in a closed closet, make sure artwork is in frames that are secured to the wall and put toys away at night.

Use light. It is likely you have tried using a night-light if you have a child that is afraid of the dark. Sometimes, however, that makes things worse because most night-lights cast unpleasant shadows on the wall. You might want to try a small lamp with a very low watt bulb instead. Another idea is to give her a small flashlight. These solutions might be a problem if she shares a room with other children. If she is given a flashlight, be sure to give very specific rules about the use of it.

There are some products that are made for children who hate the dark, like a button the child can push to light up an object that will then turn itself off after a certain amount of time.  Whatever the solution, the important thing is to keep trying new options and to involve your child in the problem solving process. Multiple options will likely be necessary.

Children who fear the dark normally outgrow their fear, but there are many adults who still hate darkness because of negative experiences from childhood. Remember that being afraid of the dark is common and is a sign of a creative and bright thinker. Some day that same imagination will take her great places.


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