Let’s be honest, the dark is kind of scary. I spent most of my childhood and many of my adults years with the fear of the dark. Frankly, I still don’t love it.
It’s not the dark that scares me, it's the unknown that lurks in the dark.
Fortunately, as adults we are skilled at deciphering this unknown. That means we can distinguish fantasy from reality. We can watch a scary movie and know (fairly) confidently that there is no such thing as zombies.
However, the brain of a young child is not fully developed and this is a skill that comes with time. In the early years of life, the line between fantasy and reality is blurry. So when you tell them there is no such thing as monsters living under the bed, they won't completely believe you.
As young children grow, their is expanding. But so is awareness of the world. As they grow older they are exposed to more "scary." It’s not just horror movies either. As a child of the ‘90s, I can vividly recall being terrified by Ursula in The Little Mermaid and Cruela de Vil in 101 Dalmatians. Books and seemingly harmless movies can be sources of fear—because they hover over this blurry line: What is real versus fantasy?
As children get older, they start to see some scary things. They also start to notice that the world is a scary place.
He notices how you grab his hand tighter when you walk by a speeding car. She overhears you talking to your neighbor about a local burglary. Despite wanting to sugarcoat reality for our children—it’s impossible to hide the fact that the world is full of scary.
1. “You are brave.”
Research shows that rewire our brains to think differently. That means that when we tell ourselves something positive, we start to believe it. When it comes to fears, we need to rewire our children to believe that they are brave and capable of handling it.
2. “I promise to keep you safe—that is my job.”
As a parent, we have a laundry list of duties. But high on the list is to our children. Although we might take this duty for granted, we can't assume that our children know how important this is to us. So reassure them often—it's your job to keep them safe and you take your job very seriously.
3. “How can I help you feel safe?”
I grew up in a very small, safe town, As a result, my parents never locked the doors on our house. As a child this brought me a lot of anxiety. I believe that if my parents had asked me the question “What would help you to feel safe?”, we may have been able to devise a plan together. and hear their ideas on conquering them.
4. “Let’s breathe together.”
Fear has a physical effect on the body. Heart rate increases and breathe shortens. I believe in teaching young children to recognize when their bodies go into this alert mode—then encouraging them take simple, slow deep breaths to bring themselves back out of it.
5. “Let’s investigate.”
Sometimes we need to look for evidence. If there is a monster hiding in the closet, let's dig through the closet and check it out. Perhaps he is under the bed—let's look there too. Instead of just dismissing your child's fears, help them gather evidence to prove that they are in fact safe.
6. “That sounds really scary, can you tell me more?”
Sometimes our kids are exposed to scary stuff, but what if we could change the story? My daughter was so upset when the father died in the Little Dinosaur. Instead of telling her that her own dad was safe and out of harm, I retold her the story with a new ending. In our new story, Arlo's dad was super strong and swam out of the river like a boss.
7. “You’re right, the dark is a little scary.”
Even if the fears seem really silly, they are often very real to our children, That means we need to validate these feelings rather than undermine them.
8. “Give me a hug.”
9. “I can hear everything.”
This is a truth. When I became a mother, I instantly started sleeping lighter. As a result, I hear everything in our house. We can reassure our children that although we might be sleeping—mamas have a special superpower to hear any noises in the house that might be a sign of trouble.
10. “I can’t wait to see you in the morning.”
Kids have a gift of being able to live in the present moment. But sometimes, it makes them very caught up in fear. When they are scared, we can encourage them to focus on the future—like talking about what they are going to eat for breakfast or a school function coming up soon.