I have a son that just recently turned 11. He still periodically calls for me or his father at night because of things like "hearing noises" or just "being scared" He also has a small fear of the dark, as in he won't go in a dark room alone for a prolonged period of time because of apparent 'ghosts'. Is this normal behavior and what should I do to encourage him to stop this?
Yes, it is perfectly normal. I am over 30 and still have some chills walking at home alone in the dark of night.
Children have problem separating fantasy and reality. By 11 this is almost gone, but the mileage is different for each person. Do not diminish those fears. Empathy is the keyword here. Tell him that it is ok to have fears, but we need to be brave and face them. Tell some firsthand experience with some fear you had conquererd. You have to help him cope with those fears.
Parenting Science says (emphasis mine):
To deal successfully with nighttime fears and separation anxiety, a child needs
- A well-developed sense of time (“when will I see Mommy again?”)
- The ability to control emotional impulses
- The ability to distinguish appearances from reality
- The ability to reason consciously and trust rational conclusions over misleading sensory information (“that shadowy bump on the floor might look like a monster, but I know it’s really a pile of clothes”)
So he needs to be able to think over his fears.
One good trick is to give him a keychain lantern to keep with himself during nighttime. When you give him the lantern, tell him:
"Anytime you see something suspicious, use the lantern to see what it really is. If you are scared of turning it on, call (me/us/your parents) and we will use the lantern together."
It is crucial during the first week that someone stands ready to answer his call. He will call very often during this first week, just to test if the promise of being there to use the lantern together is a solid one. Hold his hand and turn the lantern on together.
Once he begins to trust the lantern, he will begin to see that his fears are unfounded, and call in the cavalry less and less. It brings us now to not reinforce the fears, and not to give them (fears) more importance than these fears deserve (and that is zero. The important thing now is the buildup of the child's confidence).
If he has siblings (specially older, teen siblings), set up a strict no-prank rule for the first few weeks. Pranks can help lighten up, but right now we need to build confidence.
After he is confident with the lantern, you can set up a "bravery test", and halloween is coming, a very good opportunity. Decorate the house with his help, and then set a night near halloween to play ghost detective with the whole family.
Eleven is not really all that old. I can remember being unnerved when I was alone in a dark room around that age and later. When she's home from college, my oldest daughter won't take the trash out after dark. I don't know how she gets around campus. I guess she travels with friends.
You don't have to go back very far, a few hundred years some places, a few thousand years other places, and there really were monsters out in the dark, and a child alone wouldn't live to see the sunrise. I think he's got the remains of what was a healthy instinct for survival.
Away from the rational answers, he may be sensitive. Teens are usually much more perceptive, the noises and things he feels may be real, for a certain sense of real.
So, the question may be wether to accept the things around him as real and not fear them, or pretend they don’t exist till he doesn’t hear/feel them anymore.
Quote: “every time a child says, 'I don't believe in fairies,' there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.”