Are you afraid of the dark? You're not alone. Many, many children share that scary feeling. Psychologists -- specialists who study how people feel and behave -- report that almost all children, at some time in their childhood, experience fear of darkness.
No matter how brave and confident you may be most of the time, you probably have moments when you're afraid of something. It's an unpleasant, unhappy feeling. But it's normal.
Dr. Jesse J. Thomas, a psychologist who works with families and children in California, has had a lot of experience with people who get scared in the dark. His wife slept with the light on even as a grown-up. His six daughters and two sons also had times when they found a darkened bedroom frightening. Many families who came to see him at his office were looking for help to overcome feeling scared, too.
Over the years, Dr. Thomas has developed a way to help kids deal with their fear of the dark and other common fears. The method: Good old-fashioned bedtime stories. Dr. Thomas' stories are recorded on cassette tapes. Kids and parents can listen to the tapes together, or kids can listen to them alone. The stories are designed to help children relax and overcome their scary feelings. Characters in the stories try out techniques for making the fear go away -- and they work!
Here are some ideas for making the dark less scary: :: Ask your parents to tuck you in at night. Think up ways to make going to bed something to look forward to. Make bedtime a time for a special, private conversation with your mom or dad. You can invent stories together or use the time to read a good, non-scary book out loud. :: Remember that nothing in your room changes just because it's dark. You just can't see as well. It takes about half an hour for your eyes to adjust completely to darkness. Then you can make out shapes and see enough to move around without bumping into things. Learn to recognize the things around your room in a dim light. Then if you wake up in the middle of the night, you'll know that the scary-looking shape over by the window is just your chair with your knapsack hung over it, not a burglar. :: If you are afraid that there are scary things under the bed or behind the curtains, inspect those places before you turn out the light. You'll see that there's nothing there. If you're nervous about doing this alone, ask your mom or dad to conduct the inspection with you. :: Don't be embarrassed about using a small nightlight or leaving the door open an inch. You might try asking your parents to install a dimmer switch on your light. Over a period of time, you can try going to sleep in dimmer and dimmer light. Pretty soon you may be used to going to sleep in a nearly dark room. :: Close your curtains so that no one can see in your windows. :: Never watch scary TV shows or read scary books just before going to bed. :: When you get in bed, close your eyes and use your imagination to "see" a pretty landscape or to remember a happy event in your life. Psychologists call this technique "positive imaging." The happy pictures can help you relax and feel good.
Before you know it, you'll be drifting off to sleep.
Sweet dreams!Tips for Parents
Dr. Jesse J. Thomas, a California family therapist and faculty member at San Diego State University, advises parents to remember that no matter how imaginary or irrational your child's fears of monsters or ghosts in the dark may seem to you, they are very real to your child. Never belittle or make fun of them. Instead, assure your child of your protection and try to create an atmosphere in which he or she feels comfortable talking about fears.
Dr. Thomas has written a series of three audio tapes about childhood fears for children ages 4 to 10. "I'm Not Afraid of the Dark, Ha Ha!" deals with fear of monsters, robbers and nightmares. "I Can Take Care of Myself" addresses fears of babysitters, school, making mistakes and failure; "Doctors Are My Friends" focuses on fear of doctors, dentists and hospitals. Each audio cassette tape contains two 30-minute stories, and a flyer with advice for parents on how to use the tape effectively. Tapes are available for $9.95 from the Overcoming Childhood Fears Program, Box 2886, Del Mar, Calif. 92014. Catherine O'Neill is a free-lance children's writer based in Baltimore.