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  • Writer's pictureEmily Reynolds, MSOTR

Afraid of the Dark; Poor Vestibular Functioning

Poor vestibular functioning can be a big reason why kids are afraid of the dark. Being afraid of the dark can be a typical part of growing up. Experts say kids should be over this fear between the ages of 4-5 years. What happens when a kid is older, and this fear is still impacting their life? It can be frustrating for parents to turn lights on before their kid will enter the room. It can be unnerving when the kid leaves a trail of lights on in the house because they are afraid to turn them off! Bedtime routines can be exhausting, and some parents find themselves going to extreme measures to get their kid to sleep. This can create stressful situations for the entire family.

But why? Why can’t these kids rationalize that there is no reason to be afraid of the dark? There are several potential reasons. 1. If your kid has a retained Moro reflex their fight or flight response kicks in, and there is no higher level brain rationalization going on in that moment. This can be triggered by a thought, or any other sensory system such as movement, or sound. You as the parent can do all the talking them out of it you want, but at this point, their system is in “overload mode” and they can’t process what you are trying to tell them. The best course of action if they are in "fight or flight" mode would be to hold them close and comfort them in the way that they prefer.


2. If your kid’s vestibular system is not functioning properly, they can develop a real fear of the dark. This means in the daylight, your kid is relying very heavily on their visual system (eyes) to tell them where they are in space. When the lights go out, they can no longer rely on this visual system. Their brain and body are not giving them the right information, and this can be very disorienting, and scary! Kids are likely to lose their balance, or startle very easily at the slightest movement, or sound. Speaking of movement and sound, the vestibular system can use sound to provide clues as to where the body is in space. If the vestibular system is "off," it could be likely that the auditory processing channels that are so closely linked to the vestibular system can be “off” too. Kids with poor vestibular processing can be “hyper-vigilant” and very aware of their surroundings.

If your looking for some quick tips to help your child get to sleep tonight, check out these suggestions from the Cleveland Clinic.

If your kid has a fear of the dark, contact ReSprout Therapy to see how we can help! Restful nights are just around the corner!


Phone: (812) 480-0654

Why are kids afraid of the dark


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