Dear Dr. Bill,
Our 4-year-old son is afraid to go to sleep in the dark. We already have an established bedtime routine of reading books, singing and praying. Then he goes to sleep in his bed. But for weeks now, he’s been getting up in the middle of night and moving to the hallway outside our door with his blanket and pillow. In the past he wanted to come into our bedroom but we said “no” unless there was a thunderstorm.
When I asked my son about the problem, he says he doesn’t like going to sleep, sleep lasts too long and it’s too dark. He has a nightlight in his room, but that doesn’t seem to help. What should we do?
It’s fairly common for young children to experience bedtime fears. Their little imaginations are developing like wildfire and they don't have the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality. In their mind, there really IS a monster in the closet or under the bed.
It’s likely that your son is simply going through a phase, and that he will outgrow it in time. His imagination may be running wild and he might have had some nightmares that scared him.
Make sure his nightlight doesn’t cast any scary shadows on the wall. That occurred with our son, and we solved the problem by simply moving the night light to a different outlet.
You might pick out a stuffed animal that can be his special "bedtime buddy.” You could also get an inexpensive CD player for his room and let him listen to some comforting lullabies or kids worship songs just before he falls asleep.
Most importantly, remind him that God loves him and that He promises us he will always be with us and take care of us. Continue to pray with him each night when you tuck him in, and teach him to pray simple prayers if he wakes up in the night, asking God to help him to not be afraid.
Thanks for writing Carmen. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, just click the “Questions” link on the Culture Connection page.