Now that the clocks have changed and we’re moving into winter, the nights are getting longer and darker. For some children, this can trigger anxieties and fears around bedtime and the dark.
Fear of the dark is one of the most common fears experienced by both children and adults. In darkness, even the most familiar surroundings suddenly look different, full of strange shadows, mysterious noises and inky blackness. When we can’t see what’s around us, it is entirely natural to feel afraid – the unknown is often a source of fear, and in the past, before we spent our nights in the safety of our homes, humans needed to be on high alert in the dark because it was when we were most vulnerable to predators.
So what can we do to help if this fear rears its head this winter?
Take Their Fears Seriously
It is important to empathise with children and take any fears seriously. Reassure them that everyone feels scared sometimes and that’s perfectly normal and okay. This is the message I wanted to deliver when writing Superheroes Don’t Get Scared… Or Do They? By reassuring children that fear is nothing to be ashamed of, and is, in fact, part of everyone’s life sometimes, it encourages them to feel comfortable sharing any fears with their grown-ups, rather than hiding them away.
Having conversations about fears in a non-judgemental manner, enables grown-ups to share examples of times when they have been scared, and to talk about what they did to face those fears and move on. This empowers children by teaching them that fear doesn’t have to be a permanent state, but that they have the power inside of themselves to take steps to face their fears, which is in itself an incredible act of bravery (another takeaway message of Superheroes Don’t Get Scared… Or Do They?).
Don’t Play Along With The Fear of Monsters
When it’s dark, it’s easy for children’s imaginations to fill in the ‘unknown’ by interpreting shadows and noises as things that are scary, such as monsters. However, it is important that the grown-ups in their lives don’t appear to confirm the potential existence of monsters or wardrobe-dwelling aliens by pretending to check under beds or scaring monsters away. While these acts are well-intended, they can backfire by essentially teaching children that there are actual monsters or aliens to look for.
A better approach is to reassure children that monsters aren’t real, and to acknowledge that what they are actually afraid of is the dark, and to work with them to find ways to make them feel more comfortable.
Sharing Picture Books
Picture books are a particularly helpful tool for younger children. Taking the time to sit quietly with a child to share one or more carefully chosen picture books creates a safe space to talk about their worries and fears with the grown-up in their life. Additionally, depending upon the picture books used, children may well see a variety of characters experience fear and then take steps to overcome that fear. This reassures them that they are not alone, and that, if they choose, they too can overcome their fear.
A few picture books on this topic that I have shared with my own children include:
Superheroes Don't Get Scared...Or Do They?
written by Kate Thompson and illustrated by Clare Elsom
I couldn't resist including my debut authored picture book in this list, which is brilliantly illustrated by Clare Elsom. Written in fast-paced rhyme, this story helps normalise fear while encouraging children to celebrate their own bravery (with a few giggles along the way!). While this book deals more generally with the issue of fear, among the superheroes featured is Spectacular, an awesome bottom-zapping superhero who just so happens to be afraid of the dark. A great starting point for conversations about fear and bravery.
The Darkest Dark
written by Chris Hadfield and Kate Fillion and illustrated by The Fan Brothers
This picture book is written by the astronaut Chris Hadfield, and tells the story of the main character overcoming his fear of the dark after watching the Apollo 11 moon-landing and realising how exciting the dark can be. The fact that this book was inspired by Chris’s real-life decision to become an astronaut made this inspiring story even more impactful when we shared it.
Peep Inside Night Time
illustrated by Simona Dimitri and designed by Nicola Butler
While this non-fiction lift-the-flap board book isn’t about fear, it does a brilliant job of de-mystifying what is out there in the darkness in the world beyond your bedroom window at night. Each page is full of interesting details and will appeal to pre-schoolers and young children alike.
I'm Not (Very) Afraid Of The Dark
written by Anna Milbourne and illustrated by Daniel Rieley
This beautiful book shows that the dark can be scary sometimes, but it can be other things too – depending on how you see it. The hundreds of tiny cut-outs make this book a wonderful one to share with children.
Ghost Afraid Of The Dark
written by Sara Conway and illustrated by Alex Willmore
This picture book follows a little ghost who is afraid of the dark, but whose friends help him discover the fun that can be had at night. A simple, but sweet and fun story, which is great for any children who are fans of Halloween and spooky things, but are struggling with a fear of the dark.
The Light In The Night
written and illustrated by Marie Voigt
Unlike the previous books, the main character, Betty, is not scared of the dark, but her favourite bedtime story is about Cosmo, a bear that is. So when Cosmo comes to life, Betty jumps at the chance to show him the beauty of the night. It is refreshing to have a story on this topic that features a main character who isn’t afraid, but who helps another character overcome their fear of the dark. The beautiful illustrations and gentle story telling also make it a great bedtime read.
Happy reading! And if you have any other books on this topic that you’d recommend, I’d love to hear about them.