About Books Before Bedtime

Beat the Boogie-man and things that go ’bump in the night’

While it may be a very common part of growing up, having to cope with a child’s fear of the dark can often leave parents at a loss. The important thing to remember is that these fears are perfectly normal, even if they seem to spring up from nowhere, and that there are a number of ways to help your child through this difficult stage.

The most common cause of a child’s fear of the dark stems from a rapidly developing imagination. Prior to 2 or 3 years of age, children have difficulty grasping the concept that objects exist when they can’t be seen. After a few years they learn that objects still exist in the dark, but they may be frightened by things “hiding” in the darkness, or by the way shadows appear to change or take on scary shapes and sizes. In older children, the cause is far more likely to be linked to stress or anxiety. Children can be surprisingly perceptive, picking up on a parent’s tense behaviour or worries, or responding to something they may have seen on TV or heard from a friend. At night, with fewer distractions, such concerns can leap to the front of a child’s mind.

Talk it out

In both cases, the best way to address the problem is to talk with your child. Encouraging them to talk about their fears is the most important step in eventually overcoming them, because it teaches your child that their fears are something that they can deal with. Ask them what would make them feel safer, and offer suggestions like night-lights, a lamp by their bed or special comforters (blankets, toys and so on) yourself. Control over a situation is a big help.

Develop routines

Getting into the habit of a bedtime routine can help your child relax before it’s time to sleep. Rule out things like scary books, TV and video games. Make sure the things they watch during the day are age-appropriate. It’s easy for a child to be frightened by news footage or scary movies. Instead focus on thinks like soft music, reading to them aloud or having them read independently. A predictable routine is a great way to reduce anxiety.

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"Children generally find comfort and security in bedtime rituals. A consistent good routine is the key to a good night’s sleep."

South Australian Children, Youth and Women's Health Service (CYWHS)

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