Memory Lane: Fear of the Dark

Kate goes back and forth about sleeping in her own bed. She usually wants to fall asleep with Flora in Flora’s bed. At one point, a bribe worked (seven days in a row in her own bed = new toy of her choice!), but it’s not working this time around.

At another point, she said she was scared of our bedroom door. The door was recently installed, and up until that point, Dan and I hadn’t had a bedroom door (DO NOT ASK).

I was puzzled at first. “You’re scared of our door?” I asked Kate.

“I’m afraid when it’s open,” she said.

I looked across the hallway from Kate’s bed. Our bedroom door was open a little bit, and our room was dark. From Kate’s bed it looked like a slice of pitch blackness.

I saw her point. Anything could be lurking back there.

“How about if I close the door?” I gently suggested.

The relief that showed on her face broke my heart a little bit. “Okay, Mommy. I’ll sleep in my bed if you shut your door.” Which I now do every night before the girls go to bed.

But last night, she again balked at sleeping in her bed.

“I’m afraid of what’s behind me,” she told me.

I was sitting on her bed. “Well, one way Flora is behind you in her bed. And the other way is your dresser and the wall.”

She whispered, “I’m afraid of what’s behind my bed.”

I whispered back, “What do you mean, baby girl?”

“I’m afraid something is going to raise up. From, like, under my bed. And scare me.”

I was utterly speechless. This was such an exact echo of my own fears of the dark as a child, I didn’t know what to do or say.

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When I was a kid, I was afraid of the dark, too. I was an extremely imaginative child — today’s most redundant phrase — and I could come up with all kinds of scary stuff in my head. Shadows from outside were actually monsters; the boogie man lived in my closet (of course!), and things lurked under my bed. If I wasn’t vigilant, they would poke up their heads (or tentacles), and when I turned over and opened my eyes, they would scare me — then eat me. Of course.

The solution was to leave the hallway light on. As every child knows, light is anathema to creatures of the dark. They can’t come out from their lairs if the light is on. Simple.

I also, like many a child before me, convinced myself that as long as my blanket was pulled up to my neck, I was invulnerable to being touched by any creepy crawlies. This didn’t wholly solve the problem of being scared by jack-in-the-box boogie men from the side of my bed, but that was what the light was for.

I eventually, as a teenager, got over my fears of the dark. (Not, however, of my fear of closet doors that are open at night. That’s a post for another day. I blame Stephen King.)

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And now here is my 4-year-old daughter in that boat.

Last night, I just hugged her. I didn’t try to reason that “monsters aren’t real”, that the dark isn’t hiding any creepy crawlies. That wouldn’t have worked on me as a child.

The girls already sleep with multiple night lights (an angel night light, an LED alarm clock, the bathroom light) — although in an interesting twist, Flora has decided she’s not afraid of the dark any more, so she wants everything (except the clock, which changes colors) turned off.

Because of Kate’s continued fears, I have not done that.

I hesitate to tell Kate about her magic blanket. It seems that saying something like, “But if you pull you blankets up around you when you sleep, nothing can get you!” would only confirm her hypothesis that MONSTERS ARE REAL! That there IS something to fear from under her bed or behind my bedroom door.

I’m not sure what to do next, if there is anything to do next. We’ve experimented with “angel spray” with mixed results. We talk about good things to dream about (pink and purple ponies or puppies lead the list) as i am putting them to bed. We have a faithful routine to which we stick. And we assure both girls that they are safe, in our house, in their room, in their own beds. I check on them a couple of times until I go to bed, and I always, right before I go to bed, go into their rooms, tuck the blankets around them a little tighter, and kiss them on the cheeks. It’s one of my favorite times of the day.

Is this anything else I can do to help Kate? Or just continue to reassure her until she, too, outgrows her fear of the dark?