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Ask Dr. Sears: Nighttime Fears

Q. My 3-year-old is afraid of the dark; he's convinced he sees the bogeyman. What should I do?

A. It's not surprising that nighttime can be frightening for little kids. They're alone in the dark, and since they often can't separate fantasy from reality, they may believe the shadows on the walls are monsters. To make bedtime less scary for your child:

  • Don't dismiss his fears by saying "You shouldn't be afraid" or "Big boys don't get scared." You'll only embarrass him and discourage him from confiding in you.

  • Resist the temptation to tell him you'll frighten away the bogeyman. This suggests that the demon is real, which may make him more afraid.

  • Ask him to draw what he sees at night, a method that worked when my daughter was 4. Doing this is therapeutic for a child, similar to writing in a journal; it helps him express his worries.

  • Plug in a nightlight and turn on a favorite lullaby tape or CD as your child drifts off to sleep. You might let the music play softly and continuously throughout the night so that any time he wakes up he'll hear a familiar sound.

  • If a nightlight keeps him awake, give him a flashlight to put next to his bed. That way, he can shed some of his own light on suspicious shadows. Having this formidable power may be enough to quell his fears.
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