I’m a single mom with a 10-year-old son who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Other than his ADHD, he’s a normal kid who plays with his dog, turtle, toys and SuperNintendo. Lately, however, he’s been asking me to leave my door open during the night. When I don’t, he cries. Sometimes, when he can’t sleep or has a nightmare, he sleeps with me. He’s never been afraid of the dark before, so what’s the matter with him now?
Being afraid of the dark is part of a child’s normal development. What you describe is different, however. The fear came on suddenly, and your son is older than most children who experience this as a developmental phase.
The first thing to do is to talk with your son about his fears. Without judging, try to have him tell you how he feels when he’s scared. Don’t dismiss his fears with a casual remark like, “There is nothing to worry about,” “A big guy like you shouldn’t be afraid,” or similar responses. Instead, listen and affirm his feelings. You can say something like, “That would be a frightening thought,” or “I understand how that would make you feel frightened.”
Then work together to come up with a solution. It may mean reassuring him that although his father went away, you won’t leave him; or that Grandma’s illness is not all that serious or that your mammogram last week was obtained as part of a routine exam and not because you have cancer. If you can’t come to any conclusions after talking with your son, talk with the other adults in his life – his teacher, grandparents and father – and find out if they have any ideas about what may be troubling him. Find out what would make your son feel better: a nightlight, agreeing to keep your door open, new locks on the garage door and so on.
If your son’s problem continues, talk with your pediatrician and decide whether counseling may be needed.