Bryn was going through a phase where she was afraid of the dark. She had never been afraid of it until kids at school told her it was scary. It’s always bothered me when people fear the irrational. Too often we are afraid of things simply because someone else told us we should be. I’m also a firm believer in immersing yourself in something you’re afraid of to conquer that fear. I did some homework and discovered there’s a name for being afraid of the dark, it’s called nyctophobia (here for more details). Like many phobias, I knew this one could be conquered with the right approach.
Something I really enjoy about fatherhood is finding new creative approaches to teaching lessons. At first I’d talk to her and explain the dark is no different than light, you just can’t see as well. I’d ask her if she wanted to go into the dark with daddy and I’d keep her safe just to show her it’s ok. I wouldn’t ever force it, I felt like it was a decision she needed to arrive at all on her own. I’d simply encourage her not to be afraid, it wasn’t something she needed to fear and I’d hint that I actually knew some fun things to do in the dark and when she was feeling brave enough, I’d show her.
When she worked up the courage, she asked me to take her into the dark. So I took her into our laundry room and closed the door, it gets so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face there. Once inside we’d talk, giggle, tickle fight, pop a flashlight on and off, play “I can’t find your face”. Once we we were having a good time and she didn’t appear to fear the dark, I’d begin saying things like, “see, the dark is fun” or “I love the dark”, and before you know it she was laughing and playing without a care in the world saying the same thing, “dadda, I love the dark, this is fun!”
Still, I thought, “we can have more fun in the dark than simply standing in a laundry room.” So I went to trusty Amazon and ordered a handful of strobe lights, black lights, a fog machine, speakers, and glow in the dark bracelets. Each piece of equipment also had its own remote control. The day it all arrived, I told Bryn we were going to have a fun, night time dance party but that she’d need to help me prepare for it. I set up all the strobes, lights, music, etc. inside my bedroom, connected them to power, but left them off. Once it was night, I turned off all the lights in the house, shut all the windows and made it as dark as possible inside. I then hid the remote controls to each piece of equipment somewhere in the house, cracked a glow bracelet, and laid them together. I used the glow sticks to make Bryn and I bracelets for our wrists, necks, and ankles. It would be important to stick together after all and this way we couldn’t get separated in our adventure. Then we adorned our favorite toy swords with glow sticks just in case we saw any of the monsters she had been afraid of.
I told her there were glow sticks throughout the house and I needed help finding them because they were attached to a “treasure”. She was tip toeing around the house, nerves on edge, and extremely alert. She found her first glow stick and excitedly grabbed the remote but looked at it with a puzzled expression. This wasn’t a prize, or a toy, and certainly not treasure, it was a remote… I told her we should go to our headquarters (mommy and daddy’s room) and try out her new find. So we’d head back to the room, navigating our way through the darkened rooms and halls. Every once in a while she’d encounter a monster, (sometimes a dinosaur, sometimes a lion) and she’d quickly vanquish her foe with her pink bedazzled glow-sword. I watched fear and trepidation of the dark quickly vanish from her thought as she gained confidence that she could beat any monster she conjured up all on her own.
Once we arrived to HQ, she’d hit the power button on whatever remote she found and one of the lights would come alive, illuminating the room in a myriad of colors. Sure it felt a little disco fever, but to a three year old, she was making the room come alive and she couldn’t wait to find more remotes. Fear of the dark was a thing of the past; she was running through the house in complete darkness, now an Easter egg hunt for glow sticks. Each time we found a new glow stick; we’d run back with our treasure and see what new device brought more fun to the room.
Eventually, she found them all and HQ was a buzzing light show. Shapes and colors danced along the walls and ceiling and our shirts glowed so brightly under the black lights, we laughed at how bright our eyes and teeth looked. We fired up the speakers, cranked her favorite Frozen song… on repeat, at least 10 times… she LOVED it and belted the words out as she twirled and danced in the magical light show room. Spinning and dancing in her princess dress, the glow sticks on her body casting a soft aura around her, she was giddy with excitement and the smile on her little face never waned.
I showed her how to hold down the button on the fog machine, this may have been a little over the top, but I really wanted our dance party to be epic so, you get a smoke machine when you want an epic dance party! It was awesome watching the room fill with fog, seeing the wonder on Bryn’s face as she watched the room transform even more… until the smoke alarms began going off. Whoops! Slight oversight on dad’s part. We had to pause the dance party and open the windows to ventilate. I’m sure neighbors looking at my house from the outside had their hands on their phones ready to call 911 thinking there was a fire in my house. After all, from the outside, the flashing red lights against the windows created the illusion of a fire inside. That coupled with the deafening tone from the fire alarms and the fog pouring out of my window, I’m sure I gave them all a good scare.
Once that was taken care of we gathered all her glow-sticks, she had acquired quite a pile of them. I wanted to keep a good thing going; she really embraced the dark at this point. So I tossed them all in the bath tub and gave her a glow in the dark bath. She loved swimming around the tub tossing glow sticks around, playing with her toys, and I must have lost count of the number of times I heard her say, “daddy the dark is so fun.”
What are you afraid of? Many of us go through our lives afraid of things we have no need to be afraid of. Whether it’s the dark, bugs, heights, enclosed spaces, all of it can be conquered with rational thought and a willingness to get out of our comfort zone and face those fears. My hope for Bryn is that rather than following others blindly and adopting irrational fears, she will make her own determination as to whether something is scary or not. Anytime she tells me she’s afraid of something, I first like to find out where that thought came from. Nine times out of ten, it was a friend from daycare that imparted the thought. This is where those irrational fears started for many of us and we perpetuate that behavior with each other all our lives. Telling one another to fear things simply because that’s what we were told by someone else. I make it a point to spend time discussing it with her, showing her that whatever that thing is, doesn’t need to be scary, and letting her make up her own mind. There is so much to appreciate and experience in this beautiful adventure we call life. Don’t allow an irrational fear to hold you back from experiencing any of it. Do like Bryn, decorate your favorite sword, face your fear head on, and before you know it, maybe you’ll be saying, “This is fun!” too.