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"Mommy, It's Too Dark!"

The night 2-year-old Austin Humbarger flat-out refused to go into his darkened room, his mom, Christy, of Ypsilanti, MI, was taken aback. "He's normally fearless," she says.

Jeffrey Brown, M.D., of the American Academy of Pediatrics, isn't so surprised. "Darkness triggers preschoolers' active imaginations. Normal sights, like shadows, blow up to monstrous proportions," he says. To avoid a boogeyman hunt, you can:

Maintain a bedtime ritual. Whether you have a "bath, book, bed" system in place, or like to tuck in your child's teddy bear with her, follow the same comforting procedure each night.

Soothe her fears, but keep it short and sweet. Tell your child, "Monsters are not allowed in your room. When I leave, you'll be fine." Period.

Indulge her  -- to a point. Supply your child with a nightlight, "anti-monster" juice (water in a spray bottle), or other "protection." But don't feel compelled to watch her all evening  -- her fear shouldn't interrupt family routines.

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