Blog provided by Together Trust. Together Trust champions for the rights and needs of care-experienced children and people with disabilities, autism and mental health differences.
I can’t sleep! Can you check under the bed for monsters? Can you leave the light on? Can you leave the door open? Can you stay with me? Sound familiar?
Does your child put off going to bed, make lots of excuses to get out of bed, are you up and down the stairs for hours taking them back to bed? Your child may be afraid of the dark.
Having a fear of the dark can have a significant impact on your child’s ability to get to sleep quickly and subsequently resettle if they wake in the night. The skill of self-soothing and getting themselves to sleep quickly is a key factor in your child’s life-long sleeping habits.
Everyone needs to sleep and if you and your child are not getting enough sleep then you can both become sleep-deprived. Being sleep deprived can have a negative effect on your physical and mental health.
What can you do to help?
Become a bedroom investigator! Check that your child’s bedroom environment is not causing or worsening your child’s fear of the dark or the unknown. Lie down on your child’s bed and see their room through their eyes. Are there any objects that are casting shadows? Are there areas of the room that are extremely dark or have enough space for someone/something to hide in? Listen carefully – are there noises that could be misinterpreted, such as a tree swaying in the wind, or a branch tapping on the window, pipes banging as the central heating system comes on? Make any necessary changes to the room to resolve these problems.
Keep investigating, talk to your child about what games they are playing at school; you will be surprised at how many young children play zombie and monster games. This can really upset some children, but they won’t always admit it to their friends and will keep joining in.
Also, take some time to consider what your child is watching on the television, or reading in a book. The simplest of concepts can sometimes be exacerbated by their imagination.
Also try to make going to bed a more enjoyable experience, perhaps you could make some changes to your child’s bedroom by adding a small dimly lit nightlight. Ideally it should be red or orange in colour and placed low to the ground or maybe you could add some glow-in-the-dark bedding! Shop our glow-in-the-dark collection
How to switch the night-time nasties, to darkness delights!
Firstly, do not buy into the fear. Avoid checking under the bed for monsters or agree that the dark is a scary place as this validates your child’s fears. Instead show them how the dark can be a fun and interesting place to be. There are lots of ways that you can make the darkness fun for your child. Introduce dark activities as evening activities outside of the bedtime routine so that your child isn’t too excited close to bedtime.
Glow sticks can be used in numerous ways to create dark activities. They can be put in the bath as part of a ‘bath disco’, placed inside empty drinks bottled to create a ‘glow up bowling’ game or used as arrows to find hidden treasure in a ‘dark treasure hunt.’
Shadows can also be amazing fun! Creating a shadow puppet show can become an entire evening of entertainment, starting with crafting the puppets, then creating a story line and finally putting on the show. You can also have great fun shadow dancing using your body!
Black out the living room and create a home cinema. Get your child to be the usher and guide you to your seats in the dark using a torch. Your child can also be the refreshment monitor, going to the kitchen to replenish snacks and drinks, again with the use of the torch, make it more realistic and pay for the snacks that they bring. This will give them the added incentive to go as they get to keep the money!
Night time walks
Go out for a walk in the dark. Start by using a torch or lantern to lead the way to help your child to combat their fears. Make it fun and cast some shadows as you walk. As the walk progresses you can try turning off the torch or lantern and look and listen for night time animals. Try to get your child intrigued with the wonderful animals that only come out at night or make them excited by the amazing constellations in the night sky.
Glow in the Dark Sensory Fun
You could make glow in the dark slime or playdough with your child and then turn the lights off to play with it. The kneading, stretching and other hand movements involved in playing with it can be a lovely sensory experience for some children and may help your child feel calmer.
Recipe for glow in the dark playdough: Glow in the Dark Playdough Recipe – Playdough To Plato
Recipe for glow in the dark slime: Glow In The Dark Slime – Little Bins for Little Hands
Stories can be a wonderful way to help children to deal with anxieties and fears. There are some amazing books that either deal specifically with fears of the dark or are simply based at night time and can open up a wonderful world that happens within the darkness for your child to become immersed in happily.
The following are just a few book recommendations to help your child to view the dark as a less frightening place:
The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson
I’m Not (Very) Afraid of the Dark by Anne Milbourne
The Moonlight Zoon by Maudie Powell Tuck and Karl James Mountford
Can’t you Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell
We hope you find some of these suggestions useful and would love to see your fun in the dark activities shared on social media!