Darkness inspires a sense of mystery even in adults so it’s no wonder that a child’s imagination often plays tricks when the lights go out. Unfortunately, late night struggles with sleep are nothing to take lightly – sleep is essential for good health and brain function, so that “wild imagination” might be causing some problems in the daytime too.
An otherwise lovely bedroom undergoes a dramatic change under the cover of darkness and young children often lack the experience to know that a room in the dark is the same as a room in the light. The good news is that fear of the dark is common and, with work, short-lived.
Troubleshooting the Bedroom
The bedroom itself might be playing a role in your child’s nighttime uneasiness. Children don’t yet understand that houses creak when they settle, or that cars pulling out of driveways might create unusual shadows. Sit with your child in his or her dark room for a while and answer questions about the odd little noises or sights that may show up. Keep an open mind. Children see things in a different way.
Reinventing Bedtime
Sometimes the problem starts as a legitimate fear of the dark, but for some it evolves into a go-to excuse to negotiate a later bedtime. On the other hand, sometimes the anxiety of being alone is the real culprit and easily mistaken for fear. The point is that many bedtime problems (including fear of the dark) are easier to fix by striking at the root of the problem – the child’s potential distaste for bedtime in general, whatever the reason.
There are dozens of books and magazine articles out there that tackle the bedtime routine from countless angles. Consider any motivation your child might have to call for you in the night. Is that walk to the bathroom too dark? When family members watch movies after your child has gone to bed, does your child feel left out? Your child might not be using fear of the dark as an excuse, but might be associating darkness with other unpleasant feelings.
Making bedtime fun again is difficult. It takes time. The longer you work with your child, and the firmer you are about the rules, the better off your child’s sleep habits will be. Every year that goes by and every scary movie watched may throw new obstacles your way but it gets easier each time. Healthy sleeping patterns are well worth the time and dedication.

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