Today on Five on Your Health, we will be discussing childhood fears at bedtime. Joining us to provide some insight is Susan Birch, the Director of Psychology Training at Mass General Hospital.
Thank you for joining us, Susan. Many children may appear well-adjusted and happy until the lights go out.
What makes the dark so scary for them? Well, when children are lying in bed, they are tired and vulnerable to experiencing negative emotions. With no distractions, their thoughts can run wild and their worries can become overwhelming.
Sometimes, these fears can even develop into phobias. And why is that an even bigger problem? We consider something a phobia when it is an irrational and extreme fear that causes persistent distress and changes in their lifestyle.
For example, if a child is too afraid to attend summer camp because of insects, that would be considered a phobia and they may need help. Every parent wants their child to feel safe at home, but relying on constant lights or checking under the bed can be disruptive.
What are better solutions to combat these fears? It is important for parents to stay calm and validate the child’s anxiety without reinforcing it. Giving children the tools to help themselves, such as techniques to challenge their fears, can be beneficial. Bringing children into the parents’ bed or keeping the lights on can be disruptive and difficult to reverse..