Darkness is scary. In fact, darkness is one of the top three most common fears in children, particularly between the ages of 3 and 10. It’s also the 6th most common fear in adults.
I personally have decades of experience in checking closets, running up basement stairs, and general uneasiness when the lights are out. As a five-year-old back in the last century (somewhere around 1994), I spent every night for months waking up my mom, terrified of the shadows in my room. Since then, we’ve tried pretty much every trick in the book. I’ve finally found a system that works for me, but I (and my incredibly patient mother) have stumbled across lots of tricks along the way that work for all different ages and personalities.
One common complaint you’ll hear from kids is, “There are monsters in my closet/under the bed/on the ceiling fan!” Here are some solutions you might want to try out:
Have kiddo draw a picture of that scary monster. Sure, he might have lots of teeth, or beady evil eyes, but what does the monster look like with a silly mustache? Or perhaps a pretty pink tutu? Something that was once scary can now be a silly imp that we don’t need to be afraid of. There are even companies that take your child’s drawing and turn it into a custom-made stuffed animal. That will turn the monster into a brand-new friend!
2) Monster Spray/Faerie Dust
These both work in the same fashion. All you’re going to need is a bottle of Febreeze, or your favorite air freshener. The key is to use something with a smell to it, so that way, you’ll know it’s working. Cover the can in paper and write Monster Spray on it, and now it’s a protection spray to keep the monsters away.
Faerie Dust is similar. Put glitter in a bottle, and pretend to sprinkle it over the bed every time your child is headed for bed. If they complain they don’t see it falling, don’t worry: faerie dust disappears as soon as it comes out of the bottle! (That’s how you know it’s real faerie dust.)
3) Teddy Patrol
Find your meanest, toughest looking teddy. Even better, a friendly stuffed rhinoceros, or a bedtime monster-eating dinosaur or dragon! Put him on the floor by kiddo’s head, facing out to the closet, or inside or under the bed. No monster is ever going to mess with them again. On that note, Cloud B’s Twilight Turtle and Twilight Ladybug are not only adorable, but they also cast cool stars and constellation on the walls and ceiling, bringing a little light into the room.
Finally: I’ve never met a kid who’s still scared of monsters in the closet after seeing Mike and Sully in Monsters Inc!
Here’s another common complaint: “There are shadows in my room!” If you’re getting stories in the early morning of shadows coming to life, don’t worry – it’s perfectly common. Kids have incredible imaginations that sometimes get the better of them. Making sure they feel safe, secure, and in control of their surroundings will make for a better night’s rest. Some more solutions:
1) Background Noise
It’s no secret that music or white noise will soothe a crying baby, but this works just as well for older kids too. If it’s quiet and dark, the mind begins to wander. A sound machine can be quite soothing, even just a little white noise. Or, try a white noise app – there are tons of them on the internet. If your kid doesn’t like white noise, try ROCKABYE BABY! for some awesome music. They’ve got everything from the Beatles to Van Halen with a chill xylophone medley.
2) Flashy Flashlight
When I was about 5, my mom’s best friend heard about my fear of the dark. She gave me a flashlight and said to use it like a magic wand against all of the scary things I saw in the shadows of my room. It was life-changing, both for me and for my mom. I named my flashlight Flashy, and waited for night. Each time I was scared, I turned on the flashlight and pointed it at the place I was scared of. Then I pointed it around the room a few times. I slept with it on the first few nights. After a week, I was sleeping through the night again.
3) Mission Insleepable
Here’s an adventure everyone will enjoy! Turn off all the lights in the middle of the day, complete with a black-out curtain, and have your child walk around the room and get to know where everything is in the dark, and see that everything is in the same place. It eliminates some of the mystery. This works even better if you have a headlamp or night vision goggles lying around. Make sure to throw in lots of crouching and crawling moves as you sneak around in the dark!
Finally, your child’s reluctance to go to sleep may sound more like this: “I don’t like the dark / I need the potty / I’m hungry / I’m thirsty / I need the potty again / why do turtles have shells / what does purple taste like / I need the potty again, I mean it this time.”
Chances are, kiddo is fine. Maybe a little bored. Obviously lots of running around and exercise during the day will help to prevent this scenario, but here are some other ideas for creating a calm, sleep-ready mind space.
1) Cloud B Nightlights
For some kids, having a nightlight on all night is just going to cause early morning wake-ups, and subsequent freak-outs. Too much light while we sleep can impact the quality of sleep we get. For kids like this, the Cloud B products are worth their weight in gold, since they don’t cast too much light and they have an auto-shutoff. I’m particularly fond of the Tranquil Turtle: a soothing blue light is broadcast on the ceiling that moves and flickers, exactly like if you were underwater. The slow steady flow is incredibly soothing.
2) Deep Ocean Diving
Baths are awesome, but baths in the dark? Even cooler. Bring in a very faint light with you, preferably blue (I use my Tranquil Turtle) so that you can still see, but the softer light lets kiddo ease into being in the dark and getting ready for bed.*
After many years of being absolutely terrified of the dark, today as an adult each night I light some incense, turn on my Tranquil Turtle, and I can sleep easy with Flashy by my bed. And my stuffed dinosaur, too.
* Editor’s note: this is brilliant and I want to try it now.