Bedtime has become a dreaded ritual at my house. Every time I go to put my baby in the crib, the crying begins. My baby is afraid of the dark. She is not alone. Being afraid of the dark is one of the top childhood fears. In one study, 73 percent of children asked stated that darkness was their biggest fear. My baby cannot vocalize this fear yet, but I know she is afraid. Every time the lights go out, she starts to cry. I’ve eliminated other variables that it could be. She is not hungry or uncomfortable. When I turn on a light, she calms down and goes to sleep. What caused my baby to be afraid? What steps can a parent take to ensure that they and their baby get some sleep?
Being afraid of the dark is a normal part of childhood development. It will affect every child from time to time. The fear of the dark comes from an inherited fear leftover from our ancestors. In the past, when we lived in tribes, predators roamed the night. It was good to have a fear of the dark, so we were not tempted to wander in it and get eaten. Fear of the dark is fear of the unknown. In the past, this was an unknown predator lurking in the shadows. Now the fear has shifted to monsters under the bed, or not knowing where mom and dad went.
Babies are not born afraid. To be afraid of the dark, the infant must reach two developmental milestones.
- The baby must be aware of its surroundings.
- The baby must be able to imagine what could be out in the dark.
The fear of the dark starts in most children around the age of two. Some children can begin to feel afraid as early as seven months.
Knowing why your baby is afraid can relieve some guilt about thinking it’s something you have done. It doesn’t solve the problem. My baby is afraid of the dark. What can I do to help my baby? Here is a list of suggestions to help you alleviate some of your baby’s fears.
Use a Night Light
Leaving the light on seems like it might be a good way to solve the problem. This solution is problematic because light will make it hard for the baby to sleep and stay asleep. You need to find a night light that would be dark enough to get your baby to sleep but light enough to help ease any fears. Here are some things to look for in a night light.
- The light should be 4 to 7 watts
- The light should be sunset colors a warm red or orange color.
- White and Blue Lights can overstimulate your baby.
- You want the light to be close enough to be comforting to the baby.
- A light with replaceable bulbs is good to have, so you do not have to buy the night light again when it burns out.
- A timer can also be a handy feature if you do not want The light on all night long.
Help Your Child’s Eyes Adjust to Darkness
It takes time for our eyes to adjust to the dark when we first turn the lights off. This adjustment period can make things appear darker. It can also make it where the baby cannot see for a few minutes. The adjustment time can be scary to a baby. To help have the baby close your eyes before you turn off the light. Turn off the light. Count to ten, then open your eyes. The baby’s eyes should be better adjusted now. If this trick will not work for your baby, stay with them, and assure them through this adjustment period.
Don’t Overstimulate Their Imagination
Cute monster sprays and monster traps might sound like a fun idea, but they are just reinforcing that monsters exist. Infants cannot distinguish real and fantasy. If you tell your infant that monsters exist, then the monsters exist.
You also want to be selective on what types of stories or videos you show the baby. Showing them media with monsters, or fairy tales with goblins might spark them to imagen these creatures later at night.
Have a Darkness Date
Spend some time with your baby in the dark during the day. It gives the baby a chance to see that the darkness is not dangerous in a safe environment. Try to see the world through your baby’s eyes. Point out scary things. That scary shadow on the wall is just the dresser. Turn the light back on and show them that nothing has changed.
Start With a Soothing Bedtime Routine
Starting a soothing bedtime routine helps set the mood for the rest of the night. Pick out books to read carefully. The best for bedtime might be a fun story centered around normal day things.
I start our nighttime routine with a nice warm bath, followed by some cuddling and reading time. I also play some relaxing music that plays in the background. The music gives the baby something nice to focus on while she is trying to sleep.
Praise Your Child for Their Bravery
To your infant, this fear is real. Do not belittle or make fun of your infant for being afraid. Telling your child that monsters do not exist, does not help. Praise you’re a child when they sleep in their room. Tell the baby how brave they are at facing their fears.
Your infant will eventually grow out of their childhood fears. The child’s brain will develop to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. My baby will not be afraid of the dark forever. At this moment, on sleepless nights, it feels like it could. The steps above will help you and your baby get some sleep until that day comes.