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When Your Child is Afraid of the Dark

Even grownups are sometimes afraid of the dark. As adults, we know that the darkness may hide certain dangers that we need to look out for. Imagine how preschoolers and kindergartners feel about the dark. It's full of who-knows-what! Kids are convinced that there are monsters and other scary things hiding away in the dark. Some kids are so freaked out by the dark that they simply can't sleep if their room is not lit in some way.

A Nightlight Can Help

Rather than fighting with your child about sleeping with a light on, it may be better to accommodate her to lessen her anxiety and let her get some sleep. Although our bodies are programmed to sleep when it's dark, complete darkness is not necessarily a requirement. If your child is afraid of the dark, plugging in a small nightlight (let her pick it out!) or leaving her room door open a crack with a light on in the hall or bathroom may comfort her enough to feel secure enough to sleep. Most kids experience at least short periods of time when they simply can't tolerate the dark.

Look for the Monsters

They may be unable to sleep because there are monsters or other scary things hiding in the shadows. Rather than belittling your child for her fears, accommodate them to a point by checking under her bed or in the closet to assure her that there's nothing to be afraid of. But, never use the fear as a form of punishment or as a form of kidding. Experts say that a fear of the dark generally develops about the time children develop active imaginations. The dark opens the door to about any possibility, including things that go bump in the night.

Ask How the Night Went

Preschoolers and kindergartners have an active imagination but no way to distinguish between reality and fantasy. This makes this age a prime time for nighttime fears. Help your child overcome her fear of the dark by checking on her at intervals that she determines. If she's having a rough night, ask her how often she wants you to check on her, then do it. Encourage her to sleep with a "friend," a fuzzy blanket, a stuffed animal, or another comfort object. And, always be sensitive to how factors such as stress can increase childhood fears.

If you need help managing your child's fear of the dark, talk to her pediatrician. Although, in some, very rare cases, counseling or therapy may be necessary, most kids simply outgrow or overcome their fear of the dark.