Doper parents - School age kids and fear of the dark

From an early age, Kizarvexilla – the apple of my eye, the fruit of my looms, etc. – displayed a major disincination toward sleeping in a darkened room. As time went by, and as we changed residences periodically, I kept expecting her to grow out of this. I remember quite clearly being in kindergarden and deciding that I not only wanted my room dark when I went to bed, but even stuffed a towel under the door to shut out the light from the hallway.

Kizarvexilla is now seven years old, and about to enter second grade, but she still refuses to sleep in the dark. Let me define “dark”, by the way. For the purposes of this discussion, a room that has any fewer than two direct sources of artificial light is considered “dark”. Night lights be damned, she will insist on having her bedside lamp and the light inside her closet turned on, as well as the light in the bathroom (which is directly across from her bedroom door). Should I tiptoe into her room after she has gone to sleep and extinguish any of these lights, I will invariably find them rekindled the next morning. I am not an overly indulgent, let’s-be-friends-with-our-kids type of parent. I can be pretty strict when I need to be, and am not afraid to use tough love when necessary. But all attempts to limit the number and/or size of lights left burning in her room at night have thus far failed. I’ve elected not to make a big deal out of it right now, but I’m beginning to be concerned.

Based on your own parenting experiences, fellow Dopers, is this something I should expect her to grow out of on her own? Does this phobia of hers have the potential to cause harm if she doesn’t (beyond its obvious contributions to my electric bills, that is)? Anybody out there with any special insight on this?

Hmmm…I slept with a nightlight for a very long time. Into my teens or more. And even though I lived with 3 other people well into my 20’s I still never slept with the door closed. I think part of that is I got used to other people being awake when I was in bed, thus having some extra light pour into the room.

I don’t think I’m really maladjusted from this. Although I did have major issues sleeping away from home w/o my parents until I was an older teen. Does she have the same issues?

Have you and her other parent talked to her about this? What is the reason she gives for wanting all the lights on?

I always slept with the door open and the hall light on. Even now, while I usually prefer sleeping in the quasi-dark, I’ll sometimes leave the lights on in my room while I sleep. I don’t think I’m majorly messed up.

Is it in fact a fear of the dark, or a preference for sleeping with lights on?

In the overall scheme of things this is way down on the list o’ things to be concerned about. Both my kids (7 & 8) sleep with two 7W night lights on in their respective rooms, and always fall asleep with the bathroom light illuminating the hall and their doorways.

The only concern you might have is the extra few dollars a month in electricity costs. (You could replace the bulbs with compact fluorescent if that’s an issue.)

Perhaps try lowering the bulb wattage in slight incremental steps until it’s reasonably dark and she hasn’t noticed the transition?

My son is 7 and will be in 2nd grade. He doesn’t like the dark, either–enough so that he doesn’t like going to movies. We got him a lamp with three settings (one of which is quite dim) and keep that on in his bedroom all night.

His other thing is that he is afraid of his smoke detector. He doesn’t like the glowing indicator light. We put tape over that little light, which helped some. However, he recently told me he feels like the entire unit might be sending out harmful (but invisible) rays and wishes the entire thing was gone. We’re not going to comply with that wish, of course.

FWIW, I think fears like this are normal. Kids have wonderful, active imaginations, but that means they are good at imagining threats. I was afraid of the dark for a long time and to be honest was creeped out by our open basement steps well into my teens. I have tried hard not to dismiss my son’s fears – I try to be reassuring but not dismissive.

If a light solves the problem, I think you’re fortunate and have nothing to worry about. Her fear may go away, or at least lessen, eventually

I was a teenager before I could force myself to sleep in the dark at all. I still don’t like interior darkness much but outside it is fine. Whenever I get a night alone, I sleep with a light on because that is the preferred state. I can sleep in full lighting just fine as well.

I am 33 so I might grow out of it someday but I really don’t care at this point. It is better than being a person that has to catch the very last photon, throw it out of the room, and slam the door before sleep is possible.

My daughter will be 13 this September, and she is still scared of the dark. She still sleeps with her light on, the closet light on, the hallway light on I’m going to have to start garnishing that kids birthday money to pay for the electric bill! I’m thinking of getting her a tee-shirt that says:

“My parents are idiots, my brothers are losers, and I’m still afraid of the dark…”

What were we talking about? Oh, right

I’ve made no secret of the fact that being afraid of the dark is completely irrational & utterly ridiculous. Unfortunately (for both of us!), my daughter believes this makes me “intolerant” - in the same way that, say, disliking someone for their religion is intolerant, or being racist is intolerant.

It isn’t irrational. It’s just Pascal’s Wager applied to Ghosts. Plus, I just hate tripping over stuff in the middle of the night.

Maybe she can’t see in the dark…

I slept with the light on until my late teens. It wasn’t so much because I was afraid of the dark, it was because I couldn’t see in the dark. My night vision is virtually nonexistant and, if you put a nightlight up, it can actually make it harder to see in the dark. I would ask her why she doesn’t like the dark. You never know it could be as simple as that. Regardless of the reason though, she will probably grow out of it. (Keep in mind I am not a parent, and probably not qualified to answer)

I appreciate everyone’s replies so far. I’m not one to panic about today’s behavior quirk becoming tomorrow’s psychosis – I leave that responsibility to Kizarvexilla’s grandmother.

What is she afraid of? Well…the dark. And it somewhat confuses me, because even with all of the lights in her room turned off, there is plenty of light (at least by my standards) coming in through her window. Hmmmmm. Maybe she’s got problems with night vision. That’s worth pursuing, since I know she needs at least some vision correction.

I see that Kikas beat me to the punch on the night vision issue. I know she has less than perfect vision, but it didn’t occur to me until I was writing the previous post that it might be at fault.

Sounds like I’m making her an eye appointment next month.

When I was little, I liked sleeping with the light on. I still do.

My reasons were never really about fear. I wasn’t afraid of monsters or ghosts or creatures under my bed or anything.

It was that I got bored. If my light was on, I could look at things until I fell asleep or I could read or see my clock or whatever. I liked for sleep to just HAPPEN. It never just happened if I made it a big decision. It still doesn’t. Like if i laid in bed and turned my light out and stared at the ceiling and thought, “okay, I need to sleep.” I wouldn’t end up sleeping until about half an hour before I had to get up for school. Whereas if I were just kind of hanging out laying in bed and never turned the light out, I’d be able to close my eyes and pull my cover over my head without it being a set thing. I don’t know if this really makes sense.

The other thing was, without any visual stimuli, my mind would wander to stressful things. I’d lay in bed and just worry. Are my grades okay, what if my dad and mom both die, will that mean boy be there tomorrow, will my best friend have to repeat second grade, etc. If the lights were on, I could admire my doll or think about the cracks in the ceiling or examine my hands or read, and eventually I’d drop off and dream about sheep or solving mysteries rather than dead parents or bullies.

Also, it’s easier to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and not get a headache if your lights stay on. And you don’t wake up with a headache from the lights either.

Unless the light bill is really hurting you, I’d say it’s not something to battle over. She’s not doing anything that hurts anyone or anything immoral or dangerous by having her lights on. She’ll be fine.

It is. Have you tried using something equally irrational to fight it? Would your daughter still be scared of assorted unseen monsters if she dwelt on images of Aragorn, or dreamy Legolas bravely standing guard over her? No closet monster is fast enough or fierce enough to withstand Anduril or Legolas’ bow.

With younger kids it helps to suggest Shrek, or the Incredibles as protectors.

My 11-year-old son has gone through periods where dark was no problem, and then something would happen where it became a problem again. Right now, we’re in “leave the lights on” mode. I think it was a scary movie trailer he saw on SciFi channel.

It doesn’t bother me. He’s demonstrated to me so far that, whatever the phase, he moves through it when he’s ready.

Maybe she needs something to focus on? I have a hearing disorder that causes high pitched ringing in my ears all the time. I need to have the television on in my room to be able to fall asleep. Sometimes I close my eyes and listen to the noise as I drift off, and sometimes I turn off the sound and watch with closed caption on until I pass out. Having something to focus on really enables me to ignore the ringing until I can fall asleep. Maybe having the lights on so she has things to focus on is helpful to her for something like that? I would advise having her vision and her hearing checked to see if that may be the issue…I didn’t even realize the noise I hear isn’t normal until my sophmore year in high school, so she may have something similar and not be aware of it.

My younger daughter was just this way until she was almost twelve. We never really found a specific reason - she would always just say she didn’t like it dark. As she was starting to get over it and go to sleep with just a night light, she told me she didn’t like the shadows and we got thicker curtains for her room, which shut out the lights from the street. Nowadays, she actually insists on closing the door to shut out the hall light, too.

We did this quite deliberately and with her knowledge. She went from having a 40-watt bedside lamp and a 60-watt overhead light to just the 40-watt one, then a 25-watt one, then a 15-watt night light, then a 7-watt one, then nothing.