Overcoming Fear Of The Dark
By Frank McGinty
"I'm at my wits' end. I just don't know what to do with
This comment came, not from a parent whose teenage daughter
was causing havoc, but from one whose teenager was still
experiencing fear of the dark. And the problem was getting
worse rather than better.
The fear was also affecting the girl's school life. She
lacked confidence in herself, was exceptionally timid, and
was easily threatened by new experiences. A parenting
Yet our kids have very few fears when they are born. Fear
of falling and fear of loud noises are the main ones, and
the rest are learned as they grow older.
A conversation with the mother soon revealed that the girl
had "always had a fear of the dark", but the mother was less
forthcoming when asked how she and her husband had addressed
the situation. Apparently, it had been a case of ignore it
and it will go away; she'll soon grow out of it. After all,
they didn't want their daughter to become a 'softie',
someone who needed attention and help at every turn.
Yet that's exactly the type of child they raised.
If a fear is neglected like this, the chances are it will
grow and may even require specialist help.The girl in
question received such help. But what can be done to ensure
fears don't reach that stage, thereby avoiding a life of
Selma Fraiberg in her classic book, The Magic Years, said:
"The future mental health of the child does not depend on
the presence or absence of ogres in his fantasy life. It
depends on the child's solution to the ogre problem."
And the child's solution will depend very much on the
Anger, impatience, anxiety, concern - all these reinforce
Repressing a fear will bury it and allow it to grow. Fears
love the dark.
Comfort, reassurance, calmness, humour, friendliness,
affection - all these help dispel fears.
But what exactly is the child afraid of? And why do fears
usually develop around the ages of 2 -3?
At that stage children become aware that the world is not
the safe haven they thought it was. As they explore this
vast new adventure, with all its exciting possibilities,
they soon learn that the universe does not revolve around
them.. Everyone and everything does not defer to them.
This can be both hurtful and frightening.
Fears then start to build in the child's mind. They learn
about death and injury and suffering. And the imagination
translates these fears into ogres and monsters. Some
children are more sensitive than others, and their
imaginations really run wild.
Unwittingly, some parents reinforce these fears by drawing
on folk tales or religious imagery as a means of gaining
"Behave or the bogeyman will get you."
"The devil will come for you if you are bad."
These attempts almost always backfire and scare the child
It's one thing to teach a child about evil in the world and
the need to avoid it, but it's another to cause the kid to
worry about devil-like creatures lurking in every shadow,
waiting to pounce and carry them off to hell!
What practical steps can be taken to zap fear of the dark
once and for all?
Firstly, always take a child's fears seriously. Never ignore
a plea for help
Some parents fear that if they indulge their child's plea
then the child will become a weakling.
As seen in the example above, nothing could be further from
the truth. If fears are repressed they can go on causing
havoc for a lifetime - quite literally.
Reassurance is the order of the day. How?
Remove whatever is prompting the fear. This could be the
absence of light in the bedroom. It could be spooky noises
coming from an old water or heating system, it could be
curtains fluttering in the dark.
Make the child feel comfortable. Then face up to the fear
with him. Show him that there's nothing under the bed, or
go to the window and show him there's nothing in the
Let her know that she's normal! Assure her that everyone
feels these fears at her age, and it's just a reaction to
some of the things they've heard or seen during the day.
Positively affirm that no harm is coming to her, that she is
Then let them practice being on their own. Leave a night
light on. Its amazing how many parents think this will
'spoil' their child.
Well, in my work over the years I've seen the result of this
approach - that is, kids who lack confidence in almost
every area of their lives, whose lives are driven by fear.
Tough kids? You must be joking.
No, the fear must be dispelled before it's had time to worm
itself deep into the subconscious and take root. Weed it
out before it has time to grow.
Another reservation parents have is that once kids realise
they get attention from being afraid of the dark, they'll
play on it. First of all, we must ask ourselves why would
our kids need to seek an inordinate amount of attention?
Could it be because they have not been getting sufficient
attention, for whatever reason? Attention-seeking is always
a symptom of a lack. Address the need and the symptom will
'But won't I just be building up a need in my kid for
attention at night, and making them dependent on my
presence, or a nightlight, or keeping the door open, or
having to check on them every five minutes to reassure
This is where trust comes in. You must trust that by
constantly reassuring your kids and making them feel relaxed
and secure, the demons or ogres will be banished.
And they will. Once that happens then all the above needs
will quietly fall away. It may take more time with some kids
than with others - but the fears will slip away, and that
is vital for a happy, contented, self-assured childhood, and
by extension, adulthood.
About The Author
Want to help your family? Frank McGinty is an
internationally published author and teacher. To further
develop your parenting confidence and encourage your kids to
be all they can be, go to:
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