Nighttime Fears and Things That Go Bump

300-nightmareKids’ Corner | By Patrick Biron –

Darkness holds a special place in the hall of horrors that everyone keeps in their minds. For a number of reasons, nighttime becomes a spark for fears people never knew they had. And with young children ages two through about 10, dealing with these fears is a skill that needs to be learned and a phase that needs to be passed.

As a normal part of development, children begin to develop an imagination. This is a beautifully poetic phase for a parent. They see their child playing  independently, building and manipulating whole worlds and creating characters, conflict, heroes, resolution and more. This stage is critical, since the ability to conceive and appreciate that which can’t be seen or felt is crucial for developing empathy, complex moral decision making and pretty much everything that makes one a civilized human in society. But for a young child, this newfound “superpower” of imagining things that aren’t there can create nightmares, fears and things that go bump in the night.

For a young child struggling with nighttime fears, there are a few key things parents can do. First, distinguish between what the child is imagining and how that imagination makes him feel. Take steps to disprove what he is imagining, but never diminish or brush aside how those fears make him feel. Acknowledge that the fear is very real, and that’s okay. But what scares the child is not. A parent’s job is to teach their child how to prevent and deal with it in the future.

Next, in a world where movies and television are becoming more and more realistic, it can be difficult for children to distinguish the difference between fantasy and reality. In many ways, this fear of the unknown is exacerbated, because while a young mind has the ability to imagine something, it hasn’t developed enough to rationalize what is real and what is not. Keep in mind what the child is experiencing during the day, and either remove certain stimuli that might be hard for the child to understand or take the time to speak about what is real, what is not and how the adults in the child’s life are there to keep him safe.

Finally, imagination is a result of a lack of stimuli. Put another way, no child has imagined a monster under his bed while watching a movie on an iPad or reading with Mom and Dad. When a child is left with no distractions, his mind naturally begins to wander to keep itself occupied. In darkness, this usually journeys towards the scary and evil. Try to structure both the child’s bedtime routine and sleeping space to give him things to actively think about, as well as reassure him. My son has a fish tank in his room, and the noise, light and moving fish help keep him distracted. We also leave the bathroom light on and his door open. Finally, a night light that casts moving stars on his ceiling gives him something to focus on.

In truth, everyone is afraid of things. Everyone struggles to control their imagination, focus on what is real and keep the “monsters” at bay. A parent’s job is not to keep their kids from ever being scared, but rather, show them that even Mommy and Daddy can get scared of things. Sometimes, fear is good and keeps us safe. There are real fears they should listen to and some they should try to conquer. The more information, truth and empathy a parent can provide, the better decisions children can make with their fears, and the more they will realize that they aren’t alone and that the darkness doesn’t hold as many unknowns as they thought.