It’s normal and very common for young children to be afraid of the dark, and it usually starts between the ages of 2 and 4 years old.

The fear often manifests itself when there is a sudden life change or when your child embarks on a new step in his/her life.

Why?

The reason behind your child’s fear of the dark has nothing to do with the monsters and ghosts haunting him at bedtime. It’s rather the fact that your little one is unable to distinguish the familiar aspects of his room in the dark. Young children need to be reassured by their environment, by the presence of loved ones and familiar places. None of this can reassure your child when his room is pitch black!

Often paired with this fear of darkness is a phenomenon called separation anxiety, often experienced until your child is four years old. Around age six, he will be able to differentiate between reality and fantasy, between his fear of not seeing you and the reassurance that you'll always be there when morning comes!

Changes

Your child used to fall into a deep state of sleep and he now wakes up abruptly, crying out your name and asking you to turn on the light because he’s scared? You have trouble understanding why your little one is afraid of the «big bad monster» since he doesn’t watch violent movies and you have never told him a scary story?

Your child’s fear is innate and can be expressed with a different amount of intensity depending on the situation. Did you know that classic fairytales act as a way for children to evacuate fear? As a matter of fact, the big bad wolf in the Little Red Riding Hood and the witch in Snow White help your child channel certain fears that appear at night time. Need proof? Nowadays, parents read less and less of these fairytales to their children, yet they continue to have nightmares and incomprehensible fears. Without these very strong images provided by tales, fears can feed on sounds and shadows.

Night light

Your best weapon against darkness is using a night light and leaving it on all night long. This way, if your child wakes up, he will recognize his room, take his favourite teddy bear and fall right back to sleep. With time, the night light may bother your child or he may simply get used to sleeping with it every night. Either way, none of these consequences are very serious!

Not enough?

Your child is still afraid, even with a night light? He still wakes up crying or calling your name? The best thing to do is to turn on the lights and walk around his room to show him that he’s in a safe place. Once reassured, he should fall right back to sleep. Try not to be impatient. Your child’s fear may be irrational, but he’s nonetheless is truly afraid and needs to be reassured. Let your child know that you are there, that you understand his fear, that you are here to protect him and that your will always be there. In time, your little one will feel a lot more secure. However, if you show signs of impatience and anger, your behaviour may only exacerbate your child’s anxiety and give him another reason to be afraid!

Two years old: a turning point

At two years old, your child is going through an important transitional period, as he’s starting to discover the outside world. However, what he discovers may not always be pleasing! As your child experiences new things, he may develop certain fears, such as: animals, water, doctors, dentists, Santa Claus, etc. You cannot always reassure your child, but if you try to convey your message gently and with affection, it will surely be helpful!

Inspiring books

The Owl Who Was Afraid Of the Dark
Jill Tomlinson, Illustrations by Paul Howard
Egmont; New edition April 2004
ISBN-10: 1405210931, $ 9.95

Sid The Science Kid: I'm Not Afraid Of The Dark!
Cari Meister (Author)
Harperkids Ent. May 2011
ISBN-10: 0061852619, $ 5.25

Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed
Barbara Park(Author), Denise Brunkus (Illustrator)
Random House Books for Young Readers (1997)
ISBN-10: 0679866973, $ 5.99

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