Children who are Afraid of the Dark

A little while ago I wrote about how my children are afraid of the dark and don’t seem to have grown out of this just yet. We were lucky enough to review some children’s lamps from White Rabbit England, a gorgeous children’s lifestyle interiors company, that have really helped them cope with this. My eldest daughter, Miss E who is nearly 8 has fallen head over heels with her Rabbit Lamp, and the youngest, Miss R, currently has 2 lamps by her bedside, including the Bunny Cottage lamp.

I’ve been thinking recently about the impact of them being upset and scared by the dark, and how we react to their fears at night can potentially affect them in the longer term. I have a psychology background and so probably tend to analyse, or even over-analyse many things and I’m always interested in reading about how different parenting styles have a supposed effect on our children.

I’m a fan of Dr. Tanya Byron, a clinical psychologist and child therapist and read her column in The Times regularly. Recently she gave advice to a family whose little girl was not sleeping through the night as she was afraid of the dark. Now, I like to think I’m a relatively consistent parent and can usually predict a response from a professional to a problem such as this, but I have to admit to being very surprised at Dr. Tanya’s reply. The parents had tried all kinds of tactics to help the child feel secure such as allowing her to sleep in their bed, having a nightlight, chastising her for waking and so on. It seemed to me that they had pretty much tried everything they could. Dr Tanya however, was quite stern about the way they had approached this and berated them for not having a consistent approach. They needed to be strict, not allowing her to get out of bed, and to follow through every time. This was to be the only approach and reaction to the situation. A child (in this case an 8 year old I think) who didn’t learn that she should feel safe at night could feel insecure in other aspects of her life.

It’s an interesting thought. Children need to feel secure at night, to know that we are still there for them during those long dark hours. This kind of profound security enables them in other areas of their life to be secure in the knowledge that we will be there for them. If they can’t separate themselves from us at night, at the right age of course, then they could feel incredibly insecure and unable to progress confidently and independently.

How can we be sure this is the end result though? If a child is upset and scared at night then our primal instinct is to provide comfort; let them into our bed if necessary, offer physical and emotional love. But doing this time and time again can be detrimental apparently. I’m not totally convinced I have to say. I suppose if it’s a prolongued situation I can see how it wouldn’t help the child, but what’s considered prolongued? I guess we’ll never be sure if by giving this kind of tough love we ensure a positive effect on our child’s security and confidence but it really has made me think again about some of my parenting techniques.

What do you think?

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1 Comment

  1. Kate
    May 18, 2012 / 7:36 pm

    Interesting post, I have to say I don’t like the dark either and have often found myself leaving the landing light on if my husband is away – silly really but I always felt like that as a child and had to have the door left ajar and the landing light on maybe because my room was the furthest away from my parents when I was little ? After my first daughter was born I always used to leave a night light on for her and her door open and now she is six she has a bigger soft light on every night and won’t have the door shut at all and is much more insecure when she sleeps away anywhere having to sleep in our room on a inflatable bed. My twins however are very different they are only 3 so time may tell but in a bit of a panic hearing I was having twins I read a couple of books which outlined how complete darkness was a must for a good sleep routine which I followed and they have never had a night light, there door is shut at night and they don’t seem bothered at all by it – maybe because they have each other ? but I do wonder whether me being over cautious with my first child and reacting to how I remember I felt as a child is the reason my daughter is now afraid of the dark too.

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