Why are kids afraid of the dark: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Nighttime Fears

Parents know how difficult it is to calm down a crying child in the middle of the night. Many parents have reported similar experiences, their child wakes up crying, sweating and pointing to the shadows on their bedroom wall. Why do kids become afraid of the dark? Is it just an irrational fear, or is there a psychological explanation behind it? As a parent, how can you help your child overcome their fear of the dark?
Let’s explore these questions together as we dive into the topic of “Why are kids afraid of the dark: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Nighttime Fears.”

Why Are Kids Afraid of the Dark?

Children go through various developmental stages and begin to perceive their environment differently as they mature. One of the significant changes is the rise of their imagination. This is the time when your child starts building imaginary worlds, and with that also comes fear. At times, these fantasies can make kids feel exhilarated, while at other times they can feel fearful.

When it’s dark, it puts a veil of uncertainty over everything their child sees, and they can’t differentiate between reality and their thoughts. This lack of clarity allows them to fill in the blanks with their imagination, and often these thoughts can be frightening. As children get more imaginative, their fears can become scarier and turn into an unreasonable dread which manifests itself as a real fear for the child.

The Role of Brain Development

Our cognitive development plays a vital role in our thought process, including the ways we perceive threats. Kids’ brains are still growing, and they are still learning how to process their emotions effectively. This is why children may experience more intense feelings of loneliness and abandonment than adults. The feelings of isolation exacerbate existing anxieties and cause the child to feel like their fears and anxieties are realistic.

Nightmares and the Power of Suggestion

Children’s minds can be susceptible to suggestion. When the media, their peers, or adults around them talk about scary things, this can stick in their mind and follow them into their dreams. Nightmares are a common trigger for children’s fears, especially when they wake up scared and then find themselves in darkness.

What Parents Can Do to Help Overcome Children’s Fear of the Dark

Talk to Your Child about Their Fears

When your child wakes up in the night afraid of the dark, listen to what they have to say. Be patient and reassuring, and try not to get frustrated with their irrational fears. Asking them to describe their fears can sometimes be helpful, as it may expose the areas where they need reassurance. Emphasize to your child that it’s natural to feel scared, and that you’re here to protect them.

Create a Peaceful Sleeping Environment

Children’s bedrooms should be a peaceful, welcoming place for them. Creating a relaxing environment with soft, warm light and calming colors can help your child unwind before sleep. Avoid sudden noises that may startle your child, such as loud clocks or ticking sounds, which can make it harder for your child to get back to sleep. If it’s possible, you may want to install a small light in your child’s room, so there is always some light they can depend on.

Establish a Bedtime Ritual

Having a set routine of warm bath, storytime or soft music can help your child settle into bed and eventually fall asleep. A predictable routine helps your child recognize that bedtime is coming up, which gives them a sense of stability and routine. When your child is calm and collected at bedtime, the chances of them becoming palpably afraid of the dark are lowered.

Provide Comfort and Security

Comfort and security can help to ease children’s anxiety. If your child wakes up afraid, go and see them right away, and soothe them back to sleep. Reinforce the idea that you’re here to keep them safe, and that nothing can hurt them as long as you’re close by. Your presence can be reassuring, and your child may find it beneficial to feel you close by as they drift off to sleep.

Summing Up

Nighttime fears in children are entirely normal, and many children show some form of apprehension about the dark. As a parent, it’s important to understand that these fears are part of the natural developmental process, and they will pass with time. This is not to say that you shouldn’t help your child overcome these fears. You can, through reassurance, building a safe haven for your child in their bedroom, and creating routines which give them a sense of security.

Unordered List of the Most Common Questions and Their Answers related to “Why are Kids Afraid of the Dark?”

  • What Causes a Child’s Fear of the Dark?
    • A child’s imagination run wild, brain development, and the power of suggestion.
  • Is it Normal for Kids to be Afraid of the Dark?
    • Yes. It is normal, especially during the developmental stage of creating imaginary worlds.
  • How Can Parents Help Their Child Overcome a Fear of the Dark?
    • Listening to their fears, creating a calm sleeping environment, establishing a bedtime routine, and providing comfort and security.
  • Are Night Terrors Connected to a Child’s Fear of the Dark?
    • Yes, night terrors are often triggered by darkness, especially if the child has a fear of the dark.
  • When Should Parents Seek Professional Help?
    • Consult with a healthcare professional if your child’s nighttime fears are very persistent or long-lasting.


1. Kennedy-Moore, E., (2016). The Top Three Reasons Kids Are Scared of the Dark and What to Do About It. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/growing-friendships/201607/the-top-three-reasons-kids-are-scared-the-dark-and-what-do-about-it

2. Normal Fears and Anxieties in Children. Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/normal-fears-in-children/

3. Chatham-Stephens, K., Brown, P., McGeehin, M., Jacobs, D., Zachariah, B., &Amp; Wiley, K. (2014). The Relationship of Night Terrors to Sleep-Disordered Breathing. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine : JCSM : Official Publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 10(6), 683–688. doi:10.5664/jcsm.3780

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