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3/1/24 blog post

how to be brave in a dark room

Child with flashlight under the bed

Kids certainly have vivid and active imaginations, often resulting in very humorous stories, tall tales and amusing drawings. While having an active imagination is part of typical child development, imaginations may also run a bit wild and leave kids thinking about fearful situations that may disturb their sleep. When a fear of the dark does not resolve on its own, parents and kids may experience frequent “bedtime battles” and very sleepy family members!

Fortunately, there are some wonderful and fun techniques that capitalize on your child’s active imagination. The best way to help children manage their fears and worries is called exposure with response prevention. This means that your child is exposed to what they are afraid of while being prevented from responding in a way that avoids the fear. Flashlight treasure hunts can help your child associate a fun activity with the feared dark room and may include the following steps:

  1. Parent or caregiver hides preferred objects or toys in the child’s bedroom
  2. The child uses a flashlight to go into the bedroom and locate the hidden “treasures”
  3. The child returns to adults and shares the treasures they found during their hunt

Initially, objects should be easily found. As your child practices these flashlight treasure hunts, you can increase the challenge by hiding more objects, or making the hiding spots more difficult. This will gradually increase the amount of time that your child spends in the feared dark room. Once they conquer their fear of the dark, they can learn to conquer many other fears and worries!

If you feel that fears or worries may be affecting your child’s sleep, mood, and/or daily functioning, an evaluation conducted by the sleep team can advise you on how to best help your child. Through a combination of sleep-promoting practices and cognitive-behavioral intervention, the specialist will collaborate with your family to develop a unique and specialized plan. Click here to schedule an appointment with one of our sleep medicine specialists. 


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Ryan Sinclair, PhD

behavioral health, psychology
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