Jack Wee Rabbit is scared of the dark. He finds it hard to fall asleep if his room is dark. Mommy Rabbit needs to turn a light on.
Today we are exploring fears, starting with fear of the dark. Jack Wee Rabbit and Dr Betty discuss this with their friend Irini Klishiarchi, parenting coach to shed some light on not only the fear of dark, but also on how all moms and dads can help children when they are scared.
Surely this phrase sounds familiar! When we hear this there are underlying emotions, one of which is fear. Fear is one of the seven emotions and experts claim we all experience fear for the first time when we are born. The reason is we are forced out of the comfort of the womb and enter an unknown environment: the world. So, being scared of the dark is associated with the fear of the unknown and the unexpected. Fear is a survival mechanism and its role is to “protect” us from dangers.
Why should a small child be afraid of the dark?
Fear is part of and also associated with the developmental stages of a child. It is developed mainly due to external stimuli. Fear “appears” at the age of 1-4 years, which is the age when we encounter fear of animals, lightning, thunder or planes. At the ages of 5-8, children explore and realize the meaning of “death” and may be afraid of ghosts, criminals, the death of their parents or even their own. Gradually after the age of 8 and these fears decrease.
The fear of the dark can be “triggered” by a series of events, as well as the temperament of children or some special characteristics. A 2-year-old child, for example, needs to “learn” because they simply don’t “know”. There may be someone in the immediate family environment who has the same fear, such as an older sibling. It may be related to something they saw on TV, to some parental behaviors, or a relevant experience such as a power outage.
Can moms and dads help?
Of course they can. Depending on the age of the child, there ae different things parents can do to support their child. The first thing is to observe the child’s reactions and take action to make the child feel safe.
What can parent’s do?
For younger ages when children cannot express themselves:
- Observe behaviours and patterns before going to bed, such as grunting or sucking their thumb.
- Be self-aware of your own reactions and responses to the child’s behavior.
- Develop a daily sleep routine eg bathing, eating, reading a bed time story, low lighting
- Leave the doors open
- Always hug and stay in physical contact until the child feels better.
If the child is older you can also:
- Discuss with them. Ask open questions to explore what it is they are afraid of. Let them “show” you and also name their fear
- Answer any of their questions and talk them through what they want to know.
- Reassure them. Show them you will be by their side whenever they needs to.
- Affirm. Celebrate all small progresses.
- Spend more time with them in the environment he is scared of.
What should parents avoid doing?
- Making fun of or downplaying their fear.
- Becoming overprotective.
- Trying to “intimidate” or punish the child using what they are afraid of as a threat.
In some cases, the initial fear can turn into phobia. Phobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by persistence, duration. It is also intense and becomes irrational. In these cases the help of specialists is needed to support the child to overcome this phobia.
Do not be afraid of fears! Fear has a role to play as an emotion and it is ok to be scared at times. Always remember that both the complete lack of fear and the excessive fear can create problems in people’s lives.
Irini Klischiarhi, perental and family coach
Illustrations, Editing, Translation from Greek, Dr Ioanna Nixon