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Are You(r Kids) Afraid of the Dark?

Parents share their tips to help kids who are scared of the dark out on overnight trips or late-in-the-day hikes.

Parents share their tried-and-true tips for helping their little ones get comfortable with spending a night camping in the woods

As the days get shorter, day hikes might start or end in the dark, and if you want to do an overnight, you'll be spending a fair part of the evening in darkness. So how do parents handle it if their little one is afraid of the dark? We asked our Facebook community for tips and heard some excellent, creative answers. Maybe one of these will work for your family.

Lola Hiking at Ape Cave Ryan OjerioHeadlamps are key when taking kids out overnight. Photo by Ryan Ojerio. 

Get comfortable outside at night

Trail maintenance volunteer and dad Ian W. suggests playing games outside or doing other activities to get kids comfortable with being outside in the dark.

"My kids grew up in the woods, and we spent time out in the dark. We played games that involved hiding in the grass and woods at night without lights. I encourage city parents to take night walks in darkish places. It's a whole new world to experience, and I still enjoy navigating my local paths and beaches and dirt roads without lights, to enjoy the different senses."

Tip: If your family isn't ready for the full-dark experience, take a look at our recently-published guide on hiking by moonlight

Flashlights are your friend

Hiking Guide Correspondent and mother Linda R. advises a more gentle transition to darkness.

"When we went camping, we would stay up and read by the picnic table with the lantern on until they went to sleep. [The kids] each had their own flashlight. After the first few trips they were fine."

Taunna T. mentioned flashlights, too. She finds they not only help with mitigating fear of the dark, but finding a way to attach them to little ones can help you keep track of them if they're running around and playing in camp at night. 

"When my kids were little they each had their own small flashlight. Something else that can help keep track of them running around at night is to pick up glow loops at a craft store. They can wear as a bracelet, through a belt loop, or such. That way you can tell which tree they ducked behind."

Glowsticks and headlamps also make for cool photo experiments, too! Photo by Ron Rieneckert.

Other parents mentioned glow sticks, which give off enough light to act like a nightlight in the tent, but not so much that it's distracting to other sleepers. Plus, they're light, and kids like to crack them to get them started.

If you're on a longer trip, you could consider using battery-operated glow sticks, which last longer.

Campfires, s'mores and LANTERNS

If there isn't a ban on, campfires are a good fear-mitigator. Jeff L. says, "Campfires are a good way to focus attention on fellowship...Campfires are seldom done now that my daughter is an adult, but [they're] still a treat." Peter M. swears by s'mores. These two tactics focus your child's attention on an external distraction, and away from the dark and shadows outside of camp. 

If a burn ban is in effect and your group is large enough to distribute weight, consider bringing an LED lantern and a spare set of batteries. You could also try putting everyone's headlamps inside a large, clear water bottle. This can disperse the light and serve as a makeshift lantern. Just be sure to turn them all off before you fall asleep!

Friendly bunnies and other Not-so-Scary Stories

Finally, Erin G. offers this advice on changing potentially scary noises into friendly tall tales. 

"When I would take my young Girl Scouts out at night we would talk a lot about friendly night creatures - like bunnies, etc. then we would listen for them. Those ominous sounding twig snaps and rustles in the woods became a fun exercise in guessing what sweet friend was out there."

This last tip works well for adults, too. Cracks and rustling in the brush at night can sound pretty scary when you're camping alone at any age!

Photo by Kristen Sapowicz.