Fear of Darkness in Children: Causes and Treatment

Fear of Darkness in Children: Causes and Treatment

Is your child afraid of the dark? Does it delay the time you go to bed and say things like there is a monster hidden in your closet? Nyctophobia or fear of the dark is one of the most common phobias in children. Between 6 and 12 years old many children are afraid of the dark, something considered normal in those ages, but in some cases, this fear can turn into a phobia. A child may be afraid of the dark for many reasons that, usually, it is usually due to the natural emotion of fear. In this DesiSoch article, we will talk about the fear of darkness in children: causes and treatment.

What is nyctophobia or fear of the dark

It is an extreme fear of night or darkness that can cause intense symptoms of anxiety and depression. A fear becomes a phobia when it is excessive, irrational or interferes with the daily life of the person, in this case, the child.

Feeling afraid of the dark usually begins in childhood and is seen as normal in evolutionary development. Studies show that being afraid of the dark, often, is because we can not see what surrounds us.

Symptoms of fear of the dark in children

Symptoms vary from one person to another depending on the severity of the case. The symptoms of nyctophobia are usually:

  • Nervousness in a dark environment.
  • Tears, shouts, tremors.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Sleep with a light on.
  • The physiological symptoms include a high heart rate, tremors, nausea, headaches.

Fear of Darkness in Children: Causes and Treatment- © DesiSoch
Fear of Darkness in Children: Causes and Treatment- © DesiSoch

The psychological symptoms can be:

  • Thoughts of death.
  • Fear of being attacked by ghosts and monsters.
  • Check that there is nothing under the bed and in the cupboards repeatedly.
  • Do not sleep alone and try to stay awake all night.

Causes of fear of the dark in children

Fear of darkness and night usually begins between 3 and 6 years and is considered part of the development. At these ages. It is common to be afraid of ghosts, monsters, to sleep alone, strange noises … When fear prevents sleep normally. causes anxiety or continues until adulthood, it can be considered nyctophobia.

Some causes of fear of the dark in children are:

  • A traumatic experience: any traumatic or stressful experience related to darkness can be a reason for the child to be afraid of it. For example, if a child is punished in a dark room, there is a good chance that he will develop a fear of the dark. Similarly, another traumatic event that occurs during the night, such as a violent act, abuse, being lost or an accident, can cause fear and sleep alone, since the child has bad memories and thoughts about the darkness and its danger.
  • An anxious caregiver: some children learn to be afraid by observing their parents’ anxiety in the face of certain problems.
  • An overprotective caregiver: other children develop generalized anxiety if they become too dependent on their parents or caregivers, or if they feel helpless.
  • Movies, horror books, ghosts … , related to the absence of light can develop a fear of the dark.

Some phobias do not necessarily need treatment, especially if the stimulus that is feared is rare in daily life, such as snakes, but in the case of nyctophobia can affect the health of the child and can lead to disorders such as insomnia.

You can consider the adequacy of treatment for the fear of the dark if:

  • The fear of your child generates anxiety.
  • If your fear is excessive or irrational.
  • If you avoid situations due to fear.
  • These symptoms last 6 months or more.

The successful treatment rate for specific phobias is approximately 90%. Some treatment options are:

Exposure therapy

Is to expose the child to their fears repeatedly. For example, staying in a dark room until that situation triggers anxiety or panic.

Cognitive therapy

This type of therapy helps identify feelings of anxiety and replace them with other positive or realistic thoughts. For example, the child is shown information about being in a dark room. it does not necessarily have negative consequences. This type of therapy in phobias is usually used as a compliment.


The relaxation treatment includes deep breathing. It can help the child manage stress and physical symptoms related to fear of the dark.

Fear of Darkness in Children: Causes and Treatment- © DesiSoch
Fear of Darkness in Children: Causes and Treatment- © DesiSoch

What can I do so that my child is not afraid

Do not you know how to help your child overcome the fear of darkness and sleep alone? Here we show you some tips:

Validate your son’s fear

It is common for a father when he sees his son wrong, tell him that everything is fine. For example, when your child is afraid of the dark, we usually say that everything is fine, nothing happens … but this message does not match what your child feels, he is not well. Telling him that you understand his fear and explaining the normality of being afraid of the dark can help him understand what is happening to him. Tell him that darkness can be scary because we do not see what surrounds us and imagination plays an important role in completing what we do not see. You can tell him that when his imagination begins to work, turn on the light and check that everything is fine.

Help him take control

If your child thinks there is a monster hidden in his room, instead of telling him we will do something for the monsters to leave, we tell our son to tell the monster to leave. In this way, your child will feel in a position of control of the situation and, thus, feels that he has the power to control the situation.

Light switches accessible for your child

Allowing your child to have accessible light switches makes him feel more in control of the situation.

Healthy dinner before going to bed

Foods rich in sugar or snacks in the afternoon increase brain activity. When a child goes to bed after consuming sweets, his brain is more activated and can be more stressed with his fear of the dark than if he had eaten vegetables, cheese, dairy …

Watching television before bed can cause anxiety or stress

Anxiety is an overactivation of an adaptive response necessary for survival in a dangerous world, but this anxiety before going to bed can cause hours without sleep because the child is very affected by their fears and by the stress caused by the television, computer … Therefore, before going to bed, the child should not be exposed to these levels of activation.

Fear of Darkness in Children: Causes and Treatment- © DesiSoch
Fear of Darkness in Children: Causes and Treatment- © DesiSoch

Finally, remember your own childhood. Sometimes, the best information for our children is our own experiences.

This article is merely informative, in DesiSoch we do not have the faculty to make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment. We invite you to go to a psychologist to treat your case in particular.

If you want to read more articles similar to Fear of the darkness in children: causes and treatment, we recommend you to enter our category of Psychology.

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