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Whatever made me think it was ok for my 9-year old to watch Sixth Sense? Whatever caused me to say yes (probably weeks and weeks of needling, explaining to me how mature he was and how it wouldn’t be that scary), I let my son watch the Bruce Willis movie where Haley Joel Osment could see dead people. And for the next year, my son was afraid of the dark — not just nervous about darkness, but downright terrified of lights out at night. For months afterward, I felt like I was such a bad parent.
Working through his fears was a process, but what is important to remember is that the fear is real for your child, and it’s best to acknowledge the fear rather than try to tell your child they should not feel that way (which is true of all feelings). Here are some tips to help your child work through being afraid of the dark:
- When the fear is at its worst, allow your child to sleep with a light on. Our son slept with his overhead light on for nearly two months. While it’s not ideal, it was the only solution.
- Install a night light; we were finally able to convince our son to sleep without the overhead light on by getting a nightlight that projected the moon and stars onto his ceiling.
- Leave a light on in the hallway or bathroom near your child’s bedroom.
- Do breathing exercises with your child to try to calm frayed nerves. This can be especially calming at bedtime.
- Allow your child to experience the fear of the dark without minimizing the feeling or making him feel bad for being afraid.
- Spend time cuddling with your child at night before he goes to sleep as part of his bedtime routine. Seeing you in the same room, not afraid that anything is going to “get” you can help soothe those fears.
- Let your child develop a room-checking ritual: open the closet and make sure nothing is there, look under the bed, and make sure all the windows are locked.
While I’d love to go back and take away the fright that was caused by allowing my son to see a movie he wasn’t ready to see, there are ways to help your child when he is afraid of the dark.