Things That Go Bump in the Night


You run down a white sandy beach with ease — like you"re floating on air. Salt air tickles your nose.

Ahead you see a gazebo surrounded by swaying palm trees. A table filled with fruit sits in the shade. Seated around the table you spot your husband, your junior high science teacher and Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter.

You stop your effortless run to join this interesting group. As you sit down, you realize it"s not the Crocodile Hunter at the table, but your father.

Before you can make sense of what"s happening, your daughter walks out from behind a palm tree. "Mommy, Mommy, I"m scared of the dark."

You"re still pondering how to reply when she says even louder, "Mommy, WAKE UP!"

Your eyes snap open and you find yourself face to face with your teary-eyed daughter. Just like being caught up on the laundry or getting a full night"s sleep, this beautiful beach adventure was just a dream. Your 5-year-old is up again and too scared to go back to bed.

Maybe I shouldn"t have told those scary stories around the fire last camping trip, you think. And it probably wasn"t too smart of me to jump out from behind her door a couple months ago. She hasn"t been able to get through a night since then.

As you hug your daughter and swing her into bed, you say, "There"s nothing to be afraid of, Sweetie."

If only you could make her believe that.

Dr. James Dobson says you can. As a licensed psychologist, he counseled families and children for 24 years. And he saw many kids who were afraid of the dark.

"Fears such as this are not innate characteristics in the child," Dr. Dobson says. "They have been learned. Parents must be careful in expressing their fears because their youngsters are inclined to adopt those same anxieties. Good-natured teasing can also produce problems. If a youngster walks into a dark room and is pounced upon from behind the door, she has learned something: The dark is not always empty!"

According to Dr. Dobson, trying to talk a child out of being afraid is usually unfruitful. But a process called extinction can break a pattern of fear.

The first step is coming up with a prize for your child — a toy she"s wanted, a fun family outing, etc. Next, buy some stars and create a chart that shows how the prize can be earned.

A child begins earning stars for simple behaviors, such as spending a short time (20 seconds) in her room at night with the door open and the lights on. Then she earns a star for walking into a darkened room with the door open. A star could also be claimed by memorizing comforting Bible verses, such as Deuteronomy 31:8, Proverbs 3:24, Hebrews 13:6 and 1 Peter 5:7.

Gradually increase the length of time your child spends in her room with the nightlight on to earn a star. Talk confidently to your child, assuring her there"s nothing to fear. Give her a bonus star when she sleeps through the night. Eventually your daughter will associate sleeping in a darkened room with stars instead of fear.

"Courage is being reinforced, fear is extinguished," Dr. Dobson explains. "The cycle of fright is thereby broken, being replaced by a more healthy attitude."

And the benefits of more sleep and uninterrupted dreams aren"t too bad either.


Background Information

Journey of No Return
Sometimes as parents, we have a knee-jerk response to our kids as we're barraged by their numerous inquires and desires. Maybe it's time to stop being so negative.

When Not To Discipline
Parents should recognize when they should and shouldn't discipline their children.

When You Feel Like Calling in the SWAT Team
Are your children constantly testing you? This classic parenting advice will help you regain the upper hand.

Questions and Answers

After I spank my child, she usually wants to hug me and make up, but I continue to be cool to her for a few hours. Do you think that is right?

We'd like to be more unified in our approach, but how do we successfully move from two financial approaches to one?

How long do you think a child should be allowed to cry after being punished? Is there a limit?

I have never spanked my 3-year-old because I am afraid it will teach her to hit others and be a violent person. Do you think I am wrong?

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