Fear of the Dark: Rite of Passage, or Destructive Emotion?

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If you go to the library to find some resources on helping your children get over the fear of the dark; you’ll probably be hard pressed to find very much.  Although the fear of the dark is said to plague millions of children, it is still a subject that most parents know very little about.

Most parents will do just about anything after frustration and exhaustion takes over. One of the best things you can help give your children is nights of peaceful sleep.    Millions of children around the world would love this gift, but how can parents ensure this amidst common childhood fears?

The reality is that many children sleep with their parents for weeks, if not months. Parents hire therapists to help their children overcome such anxieties and many are simply left to deal with their fears on their own. While most methods have their validity, some are more effective than others.

No matter what approach you use or stage that you are as a parent, spending just a little time to help your kids through this difficult stage can have an impact for the rest of their lives.   In a simple way, dealing with the fear of the dark is probably one of the earliest fears a child is confronted with.

As parents, this is a great opportunity to help them know how to deal with fears in general. Many may argue that this is just a rite of passage for kids, but the fear of the dark lingers into adulthood for thousands of people and it can give rise to other fears.  Rites of passage are intended for the betterment of a person, but allowing fear to accumulate over prolonged periods of time and with no boundaries can be the start down a path of destructive emotions.

The younger the child, the less that they can separate their fantasies from reality. A simple traumatic experience or an innocent experience taken out of context can haunt a child for years.    Being conscious as a parent of your child’s struggle is ultimately going to help determine the outcome of their struggle.  Below are ten things you can start doing tonight to give the gift of peaceful sleep to your child.

  • Engage with your child: A firefighter never faced real fire prior to having sufficient training away from the hot zone. Don’t wait till fear strikes before you engage in conversations about fear with your child. Assume that your children will deal with at least one major fear or several growing up so start planning now.   What does fear look like in your child? What brings out fearful emotions in them? Finally, how does your child respond when confronted with fear?
  • Identify the triggers: Every child is different and the same goes to how they respond to circumstances and even their own imagination.   Does the television in your house spur frightful thoughts, does the tension in your home create undo anxiety in your child or did your child have a traumatic experience that you haven’t made sure that your child is dealing with properly? The better you know your child, the better you can help them through these challenges.
  • Deal with fear properly: The old saying is true that kids will do what you do, not what you say. If you struggle with fear yourself and fail to deal with it properly, more than likely your kids will follow suit. Get some help, identify the triggers and engage a friend or a spouse to help you stay courageous.   Your kids will learn more from how you deal with fear than they will reading ten books about it.
  • Declare war on fear: Fear is one of the most destructive emotions your child can give into. Fear keeps people back when they should be moving forward, fear destroys relationships, it hampers personal growth and it can lead people down enslaved paths of destructive emotions. Don’t allow fear to take root in your family. Rid it wherever it claims land in your household and your children will be that much better for it.
  • Rearrange the room: Often times a simple rearrangement can mean all the difference to a child struggling with the shadows and strange sounds of a dark night.   Cutting branches away from the window, getting darker shades, closing the closet, facing the bed away from the moonlight are just a few practical ideas.
  • Enjoy the night: There are thousands of nighttime wonders to fascinate a child rather than simply being afraid of it.   Creation has so much beauty that we often take for granted what darkness actually reveals.   We tend to think in terms of what darkness hides, but in reality darkness opens up a whole new world of glowing insects, nocturnal animals, shooting stars and the wonderful moonlight glow. Take time to introduce your child to a few of these so they can gain appreciation for the night instead of only being afraid of it.
  • Find a hero: Find someone that your children can esteem because of their bravery. We all face fear in our lives, but not all people are courageous. Read examples of men and women who have done brave things despite their fears and remind your children of such stories.   Even children can rise to bravery and courage when faced with an example to live up to.
  • Slow down: Many parents are so busy dealing with their own problems that they fail to see that their children are going through the same, if not a myriad of their own struggles.   Don’t just assume they’ll work it out, slow your life down to see the details. A well said conversation at the right time can make all the difference and give your child the strength to take on bigger challenges throughout life.
  • Speak to their identity: Don’t make light of your child’s fear and put them down for it, but rather focus on times that they are strong.   When you say things like “Wow, that was brave,” or “I noticed how strong you were;” you’ve just given your children an upgrade on their armor and they’re ready to meet the next big challenge in their life. Children have enough chiseling at their confidence outside their home, the last thing they need is an unsupportive parent.
  • Don’t give up: Our kids are some of the greatest investments we have in life, therefore the effort is worth the payoff.   Kids often go through cycles of fear as they face different challenges in life and their imagination grows stronger with age.   This typically isn’t a one night deal where you’ve conquered fear and it will never rear its ugly head again. Learn to keep watch on important milestones that your child is approaching as new fears or old resurrected ones like to visit again.

Hopefully you can see by now that if parents are willing to take an active role in helping their children, there are dozens of ideas to help your child no matter what their age.     You can take a child who fears the darkness and begin helping him or her enjoy the beauty of the nighttime instead.     Below are several “fearbusters” that can aid in your courageous plan.

Fearbuster 1: Find out from your child what their favorite nighttime activity is and try to capitalize on it.   The goal is to engage them in as many comforting and enjoyable experiences before bed.

Fearbuster 2: Break out the tent, the sheets, or whatever you need to make an indoor fort for sleeping.     Kids thrive on unique experiences and an indoor adventure will surely get your kid’s imagination headed in the right direction.

Fearbuster 3:  Find some every day symbols that speak of strength.  Maybe you get a patch or a pin, or even a picture of something your child can aspire too.  These can be things such as shields, strong animals, brave people, etc.

Fearbuster 4:  Play a nighttime scavenger hunt with your children.   What creatures do you see or hear? What smells are present at night that aren’t during the day?  Lastly, what kind of shapes do you see in the stars or night sky?

Fearbuster 5: Celebrate courageous moments with your child.     Give liberal praise, have a formal celebration if your child makes great strides in overcoming their fear.

Fearbuster 6:  Don’t be too quick to offer a crutch.    There are times when it is necessary to step in a take a child out of a fearful situation.  Many times however, we do things as parents out of convenience, but it has no lasting help for the child.  Remember, a child becomes stronger when they are given the tools to overcome their fears and therefore choose courage, and not always just given the easy way out.

Fearbuster 7:  As mentioned before, talk to your child during the day about fear and don’t wait till it’s nighttime when they’re in the thick of it.   Your child will be in a much better state of mind and will probably open up much better to the things he or she struggles with.

Fearbuster 8: Try some calming music or a book on tape that encourages delightful thoughts instead of frightful ones. Even better if you can read or sing these to them, but at the least play them.

If you’d like more information about helping your kids overcome the fear of the dark, check out my book Lights Out! Helping Your Kids Overcome Their Fear of the Dark on Amazon and you can begin on the journey of helping your kids become more courageous. If you enjoy this content, please follow my blog and my Youtube channel RelevantParenting.

Best,

Chad

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