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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

parent's solution!

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

perfectly safe..

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.

Happy parenting!

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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