Nyctophobia or scotophobia are the names of the fear of the dark, of the night and dark rooms or spaces. At least 10% of the adult population fear the dark. Anxiety and irrational fear are generated by a distorted perception of the brain of the risks that are taken when we cannot see what is around us. In adults, it is considered a phobia and in children, it is part of the fears of the early years.
What is the fear of the dark?
Fear of the dark is the most frequent of childhood fears and is part of evolutionary development. It usually appears about three years old and lasts until eight. It is associated with fear of loneliness and anxiety about separating from parents.
Some psychologists consider that, once adolescence is over, fear of the dark would be considered a phobia. Proper fear management during the first years of life would help prevent a simple fear from becoming a problem for adult life.
Symptoms of fear of the dark
Some symptoms associated with fear of the dark are:
- Avoid dark places and situations
- Feeling uneasy just thinking about facing the object of fear
- Crying, anguish, anxiety
- Heavy breathing
- Stomach or headache
- Loss of appetite
- Thoughts of death
- Difficulty getting to sleep
Unattended fear of the dark can become maladaptive and interfere with a child’s normal functioning, affecting their self-esteem, family routine, school performance, and relationships with other children.
Causes of fear of the dark
Although it is considered a normal fear and is part of the child’s development, certain situations can cause fear of the dark.
Traumatic experiences associated with darkness such as punishments applied in dark rooms, an accident that occurred during the night, being victims of abuse, domestic violence or some deliberate joke to scare you.
Anxious or overprotective parents or caregivers can induce feelings of disability or helplessness in the child in the absence of the parents, which leads them to avoid staying alone in their room.
Fear of the dark can affect a child’s daily life and health. So, it is important not to downplay the problem and help him overcome his fear. Specialized therapies are usually of three types:
Exposure: In which the child is exposed in a controlled and repeatable way to the cause of his fear until he stops feeling anxiety and discomfort before it.
Cognitive therapy: This helps you identify the negative thoughts you associate with darkness and replace them with positive ideas.
Relaxation: The child is taught to breathe deeply and to manage physical symptoms related to fear of the dark.
What can parents do?
Talk to your child without dismissing his fear. Telling her that nothing is wrong and that everything is fine will not do her much good. On the contrary, it will make you feel misunderstood. Tell him that you understand that not being able to see in the dark scares him and that his imagination plays tricks on him. Give him a chance to have a light source that he can turn on when he’s scared like a night light.
Avoid very vigorous activities around bedtime and the use of video games or television. Ideally, you should do calmer activities that help you be more relaxed before going to bed.
Choose children’s stories well, especially before bedtime, and avoid those that include characters such as witches, goblins, monsters, who may remind your child of his greatest fears.
Playing in the dark, casting shadows with your fingers, playing the blind chicken or hide and seek. It can make you see the lack of light from a fun perspective and help you feel calmer when faced with it.
At dinner time, restrict sugary drinks, desserts or very salty snacks that can be stimulating. If the switches are not accessible to your child because of his height, install a table lamp that he can light when he needs it. Offer him a bed partner, a doll that he can hug and care for.
Establish a bedtime ritual that helps your child become less anxious and makes it easier to fall asleep. Leave a light on in a hallway so that the house is not completely dark at night.
If the fear of the darkness lasts for a long time and does not improve taking these measures, it is advisable to consult the pediatrician or the psychologist. They can establish the appropriate treatment to help the child overcome his fear and prevent it from becoming a phobia.