Doctor Betti
Dr. Betti Hertzberg Ressler is a Board Certified Pediatrician on staff at Miami Children's Hospital. Dr. Hertzberg developed the toilet training video "Let's Go Potty." She is the co-author of "The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies for Children."

Afraid of the Dark

Question: I have a 2 1/2 year old boy who cries to the point of gagging when it is time for bed. We have a nightlight in the room. I asked him what he is afraid of and he responded "The shadows will get me". I tried to explain that shadows can't hurt him, that they are just reflections from the light and he is too young to comprehend. Do you have any advice for me? Becky

Answer: It is not uncommon for a preschooler to have fears of being alone in the dark. As parents, it is important to understand that during this developmental phase of their life, fears such as these are normal. The most common fears at this age are those of imaginary things, such as monsters and "shadows."

Attention seeking behavior such as crying and tantrums is a child's way of communicating their fears. How we as parents react will determine whether these fears go away, stay or get worse.

Children at this age cannot reason as an adult, so trying to explain reflections or shadows may not work. These "shadows" are scary and very real to him. Most kids are afraid of things they don't understand or can't control.

Imagination makes fears real to child. Imagination can also put fears to rest.

If shadows are the problem, why not make shadows appear and disappear? Using a flashlight to make shadows appear and disappear may be reassuring. By having control of these shadows, fear may be lessened and with time disappear. Have a special stuffed animal next to the flashlight? It can always be found there. Demonstrate how shadows are made. Show how they magically disappear! Make a game of it.

Certain television programs can cause fearful moments. A new sitter or change in the daily routine can also stimulate the imagination, especially at night when there is time to think.

Reassuring your child will help attain confidence. With confidence comes more control. Bye Bye Shadows!

Also see:

  • Strategies for overcoming fears of darkness
  • What is the cause of ITP and is there anything that can prevent it from recurring?
  • Can a pediatrician comfortably prescribe and manage ADHD medication or is it better suited to a psychiatrist?
  • Ask Dr. Betti your questions

    This information is not intended to be a substitute for visiting your pediatrician. If you or your child has specific concerns, you should see your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.