What to Do When Your Child is Scared of the Dark

Monsters? Creepy noises? Frequent insomnia? Many children with and without ADHD struggle with going to bed, being in a dark room and falling asleep. Of course, it’s normal to be frightened of unfamiliar things. it’s also common for some kids with ADHD to struggle to turn off their brains even though their bodies are tired. For kids with ADHD, who struggle to manage strong emotions and can over-focus on particular thoughts, night-time fears can be especially problematic. Instead of you falling asleep in their bed or endlessly reassuring them, change your approach to one that creates confidence and happy slumber for everyone. Become their ally and take on the night dragons once and for all.

Most kids tend to stay away from the stuff that scares them. Who doesn’t? Anxiety is a powerful force to contend with.  If they’re not exposed to it, then they’re not afraid. But avoidance and depending completely on you for comfort may feel good now but doesn’t help them in the long run.  They don’t learn essential skills for self-soothing and positive self-talk. People build courage by being afraid and doing it anyway. Comfort is important to give but it can’t be the only solution.

Learning to tolerate discomfort in the dark takes time.  You will probably have to proceed slowly at first. Set up a plan by talking with your son or daughter about what frightens them, when they’ve managed to overcome that fear and how they did it. You want to identify successful nights and what made them work. Your child wants this to go away and so do you: that’s your mutual motivation for creating a collaborative plan.  The goal is to strengthen the side of them that wants to do it and make it bigger than the part that doesn’t. Use incentives with your plan such as points towards an activity they like (playing a game with you, additional screen time, etc.).

This may sound crazy but let’s take riding a roller coaster. Instead of going on the biggest one or even the medium-sized one, you start with something small to build your confidence. Then if that goes well, you can try a larger one. Similarly, leaving your child alone in the dark may be too much right now. Make a game to check the closet and under the bed for unwanted “guests.” When it’s time to turn out the light, turn on a night light, keep the door open, maybe play some soothing music and leave a light on in the hallway. Limit your time hanging out with them to ten minutes and discuss this well before bedtime. Maybe you’ll need to sit in a chair at first, then by the door while humming  a favorite tune. When they’re doing a better job of managing the separation and falling asleep on their own, consider closing the door halfway. Maybe that’s enough. At some point, perhaps you can close the door completely and if you can’t that’s okay too.  The goal is to start doing small changes, let them feel successful and then tackle the bigger stuff.

Be patient. Reducing night-time worries takes time, practice and some stumbling along the way. Stick with the plan you’ve both created for a few days, assess how it’s working together, and make any necessary adjustments. Let your child’s desire to do things differently guide you. Courage will naturally follow.