The lights are out. Something moves on the wall. There is a sudden, unexpected sound. A scary image flashes on the screen of your child’s mind. Next comes the familiar cry, “Mommy, I’m scared.” You enter your child’s room and ask what’s wrong. The weepy answer that you have heard many times before comes once again, “I don’t know. I’m just afraid. Don’t leave.”
What do you do?
The first thing to recognize is that there usually is not a response you can make at this moment that will magically make everything okay for your child. So, in the moment you comfort your child, pray with her and offer your assurances that she is safe. Often this means staying with your child until sleep comes. However, the goal of this post is to help you avoid repeat performances of this scenario.
Often, as in the scenario above, young children can’t remember exactly why they are scared. Yes, sometimes there are scary images from a book, a video or a story the child remembers. But often, just the darkness is enough to bring fear. Leaving the lights on may work for some children but by itself this doesn’t address the underlying reasons for the fear.
First, check out the room for things that may appear during the night that are not obvious in daylight. One of my children was frightened by the shadow of a tree limb on the wall that moved in the wind but was only visible when there was moon light. During the day, or when there was no moon or wind this was not observable. Situations like these are correctable once you know they exist.
But here is the more important consideration. God is present in the darkness! You can teach your children the wonderful truth that God is there, in their bedroom, even in the darkness. Psalm 139 weaves an intimate picture of just how deeply God is involved in life. Verse 3 of the psalm teaches your children that God always sees them, that he is right there whether they travel away or are lying on their bed. Verse 12 says that to God darkness and light are the same. God does not vanish in the darkness!
When fears come, God is right there. You can tell your kids that they can talk to God when they are afraid at night, just like you do. This is a wonderful opportunity to practically model your faith in God for your children.
The truths of Psalm 139 should be talked about during the day. Discuss the particular fears and situations that you and your children face. The more open you are the more open your children will be. Over time the truth that God is always near, always present, always in control will begin to impact your children and their fears. No, you can’t predict everything that might happen in the darkness. But you can live out the truth that no matter what happens, God is there.