Suddenly, one fine day my son refused to sleep in the dark. He wanted the dim light on at all times. Most kids go through a phase when they are afraid of the dark. But, I was wondering how it happened overnight.
Next day, when we were riding in the car to go to school, I probed about his fears. He said, “Mommy, Do you know why this underground parking is so dark?” Without waiting for me to answer, he replied – “It is so dark because before our apartment was built, zombies lived here, exactly in this parking area”.
Here was my clue! Kids have very active imagination, which is also impacted by the things they see and hear through the day. Stories from friends that they heard may seem harmless during the day, but cause petrifying memories at night. I acknowledged his fear of zombies living in our parking lot in the past. I spent next couple of minutes trying to tell the real story of a farm land being converted to a residential land and our apartment complex getting built on that land. He asked some questions to validate my story and was finally convinced.
When children go to bed, their young brains may go into highly imaginative mode in the darkness. Suddenly, the shadow in the corner is the ghost they saw in a movie, or the noise in the other room is the witch that they read about in a storybook. These visions are very frightening for them.
We may not be able to help kids completely resolve all their fears as soon as we want (because it is a stage they will have to grow out of), but there is a lot we can do to help them cope and master their fears.
Some of the tried and tested techniques are listed below:
• It’s important not to dismiss or ridicule children’s fears. Hear their feelings and acknowledge them.
• Reassure them that you are there for their security and that there is nothing frightening. If possible, also demonstrate that, for example, by keeping the light on for a few days so they can see there is nothing scary.
• Create a bed time box (can be a decorated shoebox) and fill it with things that make them feel safe (Flashlight, extra batteries, magic wand, favourite books, anything else they like).
• Do not worry about having your child sleep with you for a while, just until his nighttime fears subside.
• Establish a peaceful evening routine that includes, for example, a warm bath, a calming story or a melodious song.
• Teach them about positive self-talk, encouraging them to use expressions like, “I’m not scared; it’s just dark” or “I’m not alone. Mom is in the other room.”