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Afraid of the Dark

I decided to give this a try and email you on some trouble I have been having with my two year old. She is extremely afraid of the dark to the point where she.

 

crying at school

1.       She will not go to her room even in the day time by herself to simply get a toy she wants to play with. I continuously tell her it’s okay there is nothing to be scared of and even walk her over there and show her. She refuses to go and says I want you to come with me.
2.       When we are just playing she will hear a noise such as the dryer turning on or the AC kicking on and she gets scared jumps up runs to me and says what is that noise. She sometimes even shakes her head and says “that’s daddy right? There is nothing to be scared of right mommy?”  I simply explain what the noise is and show her what is making it so she will not be scared anymore.
3.       She wakes up in the middle of the night and takes off running in our room where she sleeps the rest of the night. She will not go to sleep on her own in her room we have to put her asleep first so she doesn’t realize she is sleeping in her room.
Is there anything I can do to get her to stop being so scared? I have no idea how she developed this fear.

Being afraid of the dark is common childhood fear. Is she really afraid of the dark? Will she go in her room with the light on? Does she nap in her room? It really sounds more behavioral as opposed to a true phobia. Has she had a recent stressor - a move or the birth of a sibling?

Certainly, her fears during the day sound real and normal. When she wants you to go with her to her room do so - some of the time. My guess is she will go in the room when you do and much of this is attention seeking behavior.

You cannot expect her to sleep through the night if you are transferring her into her room each night. This is why children that are rocked to sleep eventually begin to wake in the middle of the night.

I would play the big girl card. Meaning you should not allow her the title of “big girl” until she learns to sleep through the night. You should periodically let her know that “big girls” sleep in their own beds.

The first battle has to be getting her to fall asleep in the room that she is expected to sleep in. Could you try another room? Could you move her bed into a room with another sibling (even a baby)?

There are basically two ways to approaches solving this problem. Either solution requires a rigid predictable bedtime routine. I’m fine with her having her room light on at night, but would prefer a lamp or two.

The obvious solution is to lock her in her room and go about your evening. Eventually she will fall asleep and with consistency she will stop resisting. Incidentally, our toddler’s bedroom has child safe door knob and he cannot get out of his room. We do not want him roaming the house at night for obvious safety reasons.

The second solution is to gradually remove yourself from the situation. Such as:
week 1 lay in bed (her bed) with her until she falls asleep
week 2 sit in chair beside bed until she falls asleep
week 3 sit in chair near door
week 4 sit in chair outside door

This solution type of solution often looks best on paper, but is the hardest to follow through on. What are you going to do when she gets out of her bed? Are you strong enough to walk out of the room and leave?

Most parents choose a combination of the two plans. Sit down and come up with your plan in writing. Discuss the plan with your daughter. Let her know it is for her own health.

Once she has learned to fall asleep on her own, the rest of the night will fall into place.

Clearly, your daughter is at a time her life when she needs some extra attention. I’m afraid she is getting attention for poor behavior. Focus on giving her attention for positive behavior.

 

 

 

Written November 2011 by
Dr. Gordon, Windermere Pediatrician

 

 

 

 

 

gregorygordonmd.com is intended to help parents understand the needs and behaviors of children. The information presented in the site is the opinion of Gregory Gordon, M.D.and does not reflect the opinion of his partners. This website is owned exclusively by Doctors insights LLC. The advice in this site does not apply to all children. Always consult your healthcare provider for your individual needs.

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