by Christari Farnum
Nearly everyone has a fear of the dark at some point in their life. According to the Clinical Psychology Associates of North Central Florida, over 90% of children will develop a related fear at some point in their development. Most common is fear of the dark, which occurs primarily around the age of five (specifically between the ages of three and six). Around the ages of 6 – 8, children usually develop specific fears like boogeymen in the closet or ghosts outside the window.
As a parent, it’s common to face the issue of “things that go bump in the night” or other similar fears that relate to your child’s fear of being harmed. It is important that you find methods to handle the issue without causing it to grow or amplify. So, what are some solutions?
1. Dig out the root. First, it’s important to understand that each issue probably has a root cause. That root could be anything from an overheard horror movie to an “expert” on the playground that “had it happen to her cousin.” Ask the child why he is afraid or where he got the idea. Understanding the issue is the first step in finding a solution.
2. Prove it. At the age of three, the imagination starts to develop, which can enhance fear. Take the logical approach and prove that everything is ok. For example, if a child is afraid of thunder, find a video that shows how thunder is caused.
3. Don’t tease. Some people think that teasing lightens the fear. This is untrue. Teasing is likely to make the child ashamed of their fear and hide it, as well as lose trust in the person who did the teasing. Fear of parental reaction can also reinforce fear. Treat the fear calmly and with understanding. Your child is confiding in you.
4. Take a proactive step towards calming the ethereal. Many fears just aren’t real, but they are very real to the child. At early stages, children have trouble discerning fantasy from reality – anything is possible because they haven’t been shown otherwise. Particularly when a child’s fear is born from something that is fiction, like a cartoon. In these cases, fight fire with fire. Things like “monster spray” are useful, as well as teaching the child little poems, prayers, or songs that can allow them to do something to “fight back” the fear. Recipes, instructions, and templates for monster spray can be found here or in the links below.
5. Provide coping tools. Sometimes the child has a fear that is a true concern, like dangerous weather or rattlesnakes, but it is to an overwhelming proportion. If the fear is something legitimate, like tornadoes, show them a storm tracker that shows areas of tornado warnings and give them a watch so they know when the storm warning has passed. This helps the child feel like there is an element of control in a situation that feels uncontrollable and shows them there is an end to the danger.
If the fear is a fear of the dark, a soothing night light should help. Ideally, the night light will have some sort of meaning for the child. For example, if he or she likes fairies, then choose a fairy house, like this one. If he or she is a big fan of Winnie the Pooh, then pick a related night light. The image should be soothing and comforting.
6. Take away the fear with fun. Change the situation that causes the anxiety into something that is lighthearted. For example, if your solution is to head to the basement during a tornado, make it a special event – take storybooks to read and bring down a few special snacks to make a picnic. In other words, do something pleasurable to distract from the fear. If the fear is of the dark, do something fun in the dark! Shadow storybooks use flashlights to project shadows on the wall, like “Nighttime Nursery Rhymes” by Heather Zschock. You can also teach your child to make shadow puppets with their hands, or cuddle up under a blanket and watch their favorite tv show in the dark with a bowl of popcorn.
7. Security objects. Blankies, plushies, and other items give the child a new focal point that helps create a feeling of security so they don’t feel alone when it’s bedtime or they have to weather through a thunderstorm.
8. Don’t force it. Some parents think that the best solution to prove that Bloody Mary doesn’t exist is to march the child up to the bathroom mirror to prove it. Don’t. Again, consider the fact that the child is trusting you. Shoving the child at his or her fear won’t alleviate it.
9. Know when to say when. While it is not uncommon for fears to be tedious for several nights at bedtime, if the fear grows to the point that it is affecting the child’s health and daily life, seek medical attention. There may be more wrong than simple childhood fears.
Here are instructions, recipes, and templates for creating monster spray:
Source: Jamison, Lesley, PHd. Childhood fears. Retrieved on July 5, 2014 from http://cpancf.com/articles_files/COMMON_CHILDHOOD_FEARS.asp