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FEAR OF THE DARK

Fear of the dark is common in young children.

Although babies come into the world with very apparent inborn fears of falling and loud noises (a newborn will react immediately with a startle reflex to both threats), most fears are learned.

The period of maximum fearfulness is in the preschool period. Parents are often dismayed when a happy-go-lucky toddler morphs into a clinging, fearful child. But this is a perfectly normal aspect of early childhood development.

Your child is now old enough and smart enough to realize the world is not always a safe place.

Fear of the dark is usually a fear of the thoughts that occur in the dark when there is nothing else in the child’s vision to serve as a distraction.

I have never belonged to the children-must-learn-to-sleep-in-the-dark school of thought. If your child seems reluctant to go to sleep in the dark, leave a soft, low wattage light on like a night light.

Some children, usually around age three when fears peak, want more than the night light. They want a real light and claim they cannot fall asleep if the light is off. I suspect this is because the night light causes shadows and the children’s imagination is now developed enough to turn shadows into monsters. I tell parents it’s OK to use a light if the child wants it but every few weeks ask if the child feels big enough to sleep with just a night light.

How can parents best deal with the young child who is afraid of the dark? Acknowledge the child’s fear. Don’t try to talk the child out of it or convince the child that the dark is not scary.

Sometimes it helps to say that you were afraid of the dark when you were little but when you got bigger the fear went away. This shows the child that he or she is not alone in these fears and that there is light (pun intended) at the end of the tunnel.

Be sure the child’s daily dose of TV is kept very low and that scary programs are forbidden.

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