It’s bedtime. You’re about to tuck your little one in when they hit you with this, “There’s a monster in my closet.” You open the closet door to show them that there’s nothing in there except for their clothing. Then there’s a monster under the bed. Once you’ve verified that there’s nothing under the bed, there’s another monster and another. Each monster delays the inevitable shutting off the lights.
These monsters aren’t actually monsters and it’s not going to sleep that your kiddo fears, it’s the dark. Fear of the dark is common in children and with your love and help, and a little night support from our smart companion, Snorble®, your youngster can face their fears and get a good night’s sleep.
What is fear of the dark called?
Fear of the dark is called nyctophobia. It comes from the Greek word for night and encompasses the anxiety and symptoms that go along with being scared of being alone in the dark and darkness itself. Nyctophobia is more common in children, however, people of all ages can be plagued by this fear.
What causes us to fear the darkness?
Back, back, back, back, back, back, back in the day, our ancestors lived and slept out in the open making darkness very dangerous. Predators roamed the night and you never knew who or what threatened your safety. Because our ancestors had to be vigilante even at night, this awareness of the unknown has stayed with us as we evolved.
Moreover, a person who has a troubling or traumatic experience in the dark is more likely to develop a fear of it. Memories of that traumatic event (or any traumatic event for that matter) can often return when we’re ready in bed and know the lights have to turn off so we can get some sleep. As children are learning about bedtime and the importance of sleep on their overall well-being and development, they’re also dealing with a fear of the unknown. To a child, the world is a big, wondrous place full of things they don’t know, especially when the lights go off.
Fear of the dark in toddlers and preschoolers can be brought on by noises they hear when the lights go out, especially when they have no idea where the noises are coming from or what caused them. In addition, kids are highly influenced by what they see. If they walk in on an older sibling watching a horror movie and catch a glimpse of something unsettling, this could turn into nyctophobia. They could also overhear their parents and caregivers talking about a horrible current event that they don’t understand but can grasp enough to know it’s bad news. Kiddos are creative and have wonderful imaginations but that creativity and imaginative curiosity can lead to phobias at night.
When do kids start fearing the dark?
Generally, children begin to fear the dark around age two. This fear can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to a few years depending on your kiddo’s genetic makeup, if they have experienced a traumatic event, or have an underlying issue that hasn’t been addressed like ADD, PTSD, and OCD.
For anyone of any age, being alone in the dark can feel uncomfortable due to uncertainty. What’s that noise? Who else is in here? However, for children that are nyctophobic there are specific triggers beyond turning the lights off at night that can make them anxious:
- Getting ready for bed - the simple act of putting their PJs on and brushing their teeth can make some youngsters uneasy knowing that soon they’ll be in the dark trying to sleep
- Walking into a dark place, even during the day - movie theaters, going down to the basement, or any darkened place where a child can’t reach the light switch can be terrifying for them
- Watching a movie or TV show with nighttime scenes - even watching a cartoon where the action takes place at night can provoke their fear of the dark
Can you help your little one overcome their fear of the dark?
You sure can! Besides telling your youngster that you’re not going anywhere while they’re sleeping and even popping your head into their room a few times as they’re dozing off to comfort them, you can try:
Having a conversation about the dark
When you acknowledge your child’s fear of the dark, you’re telling them that this is a real fear and you understand that they’re having a tough time with it. If you ignore it or tease them, even in a playful manner, this may magnify the fear and make it worse. Instead of saying things like, “Big kids aren’t scared of the dark.” you can instead say something like, “Tell me what’s scaring you so we can talk about it.” This way you’re giving your child a chance to unpack their fear and you can get to the bottom of it.
Offering security in the form of an object
For children trying to cope with the darkness, a security object like a blanket or stuffed animal can help them feel more relaxed and secure during the night. Should they wake up in the middle of the night in a panic because it’s too dark to see, they can hug their security object for comfort. You can also tell your kiddo to talk to their security object for reassurance even if they don’t get a response. Snorble can be used as a security object and your child will get a response when they have a conversation in the middle of the night. (More on that below.)
Training for relaxation
Yoga, meditation, and reflection, are all great ways to train your child to relax before bed. Snorble offers those activities as part of the Bedtime Experience wind-down component. By showing your kiddo how to close their eyes and focus on their breathing, they may eventually learn to do that on their own when faced with nyctophobia.
Lighting the night with a nightlight
Nightlights can help children get over their fear of the dark as long as they’re not exposed to bright blue light while they’re trying to sleep. Using a nightlight offers security for your child and allows them to see enough of what’s around them without illuminating the entire room. Snorble’s a nightlight too so you can leave our cuddly smart companion on while your child sleeps to bathe their room in low ambient lights.
Imagining a better darkness
One of the most precious things about children is their imagination. You can imagine a better darkness with them by playing in the dark with glow-in-the-dark toys. You can also let their imaginations run wild by naming the monsters and boogeymen they think are hiding in the shadows. With a backstory, the scary ogre in their closet can turn into a loving mythical creature that protects them from harm while they sleep.
Making sure bravery doesn’t go unnoticed
When your little one confronts their fear of the dark, whether it’s sleeping through the night or not asking you to check the closet for monsters before bed, you can give them a little reward. This will not only make them feel good about themselves but give them an incentive to stand up to the darkness and face their fears.
Snorble’s not in the dark about nyctophobia
Here at Team Snorble, we know first-hand how fear of the dark can keep your little one from getting a good night’s sleep. We were kids once and we now face nyctophobia with our children. But there’s hope! Snorble can act as a nightlight and comes with an entirely customizable Bedtime Experience designed to get your kiddo into bed, fall asleep, and stay asleep. Your youngster can even cuddle Snorble during the night as a security object to protect them from the invisible menaces they think are lurking in the dark.
Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash