Fear: Is your Child afraid of the Dark?
"Mom! I can't sleep!!!" Does your child have a difficult time falling asleep at night because he is scared of the dark? The thought of monsters under the bed, the sense of insecurity after waking from a nightmare. It's a common childhood fear, but there are some basic steps you can take to help your child overcome it. The Center for Effective Parenting provides the following suggestions.
Getting Ready for Bed
During the evening hours, make sure your child is winding down. This means no action movies or scary stories or video games that might get his imagination running. If you have a sensitive child, you may want to eliminate scary movies altogether. One clip of something horrifying can stay in his head for weeks to come, and unfortunately he may dwell on that scary monster or violent criminal while is lying in his dark bedroom.
Watch Your Own Reactions
Sometimes moms try to make the situation better by downplaying the fear. However, dismissing his concerns won't make them go away. On the opposite side of the spectrum, other moms become overly anxious to the point that the child sees this as confirmation that there really is something to be scared of. "If Mommy seems nervous about me sleeping in the dark, then there really must be something to worry about." Instead, find a common ground between the two. Show concern for your child's fears without adding to them. And whatever you say, do not ridicule him for his fears. Don't make jokes about monsters under the bed, and don't let your husband or other children tease him either.
Keep Him in His Room
While you may want to comfort your child after a bad dream or fit of crying, set firm boundaries about where he sleeps. If you allow him to sleep in your bed when he's scared, it will become a difficult habit to break even on good nights. So as needed, encourage your child in his room, but make sure he remains there.
Talking about Fears
Sometimes just allowing your child to talk about what he's scared of or what it's like to be in a dark room will help him feel better. If he has trouble verbalizing his fears, have him draw it on paper. Then encourage your child to confront his fears. For example, if he awakes from a nightmare, teach him to think of calming things, such as a favorite memory, or to tell himself that nothing will harm him and Mommy is just down the hall.
Being in the Dark
Let your child gradually grow accustomed to the dark. If needed, work from having a light on at night to just a nightlight. You can also use a dimmer switch to gradually lower the lighting over time. Your child may also appreciate having a flashlight nearby once he begins sleeping without the lights on.
Begin to teach your child that the dark can be safe. For example, play games such as hide-and-seek or follow the leader that will involve your child hiding or walking through slightly darkened rooms. Then as he begins to feel comfortable, have him hide in darker rooms. Or you can play a game to see how long your child can stand in a dark room. You may need to start at just a few seconds, then work your way from there. The key is not to rush these steps or force things on him, but to gradually let your child become comfortable with the dark.
Praising Your Child
For every small step of progress your child makes, be sure to give him plenty of praise for his efforts. You may also want to set up a reward system. You can chart his progress and give a special treat after a set goal. For example, if he sleeps for four nights in a row without using his main light, you can take him out for ice cream. A chart will also give your child visual confirmation that he is making progress.
When to Seek Help
If after long-term, patient work to help your child, you find that he is still overly fearful, consider seeking professional help. Your child's phobia may require the assistance of a professional counselor.
Center for Effective Parenting (http://www.parenting-ed.org)
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