Boogeyman under the bed, one-eyed balls of fur in the closet, you name it – children have vivid imaginations. This allows them to be endlessly creative and, unfortunately, to conjure up endless varieties of frightening images. Imagination, combined with a child’s actual experience of real helplessness against forces much larger than himself, often finds expression in the common childhood fear of “monsters.” Far from being “cute,” this fear can prevent kids from getting a good night sleep. It often leaves them afraid to be alone in their own rooms, fearing shadows, cabinets, closets and that ominous space under the bed.
If your child is afraid of monsters, consider the following tips:
Accept the Feeling of Fear
Fear of monsters may seem silly to adults, but it is a serious matter for young children. Avoid shaming the child or discounting his feelings, even as a form of encouragement (i.e “don’t be silly!”). Instead, acknowledge that the child is afraid by saying something like “I know you’re afraid.” This simple comment can accomplish many things: it conveys understanding (which, in itself, is therapeutic for the child), it helps strengthen the parent-child bond (because the child feels “seen” by the parent), and it helps shrink the fear (because naming the feeling gives it a “box” to fit in, rather than leaving it larger than life). The simple naming of a feeling without negative judgment helps the child to accept and release his own feelings which, over time, helps him to calm himself down more easily. The naming of a feeling is called “Emotional Coaching” and it helps build the child’s emotional intelligence (see “Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice” for more information about this technique.)
Teach Courage in the Face of Fear
After you’ve named the child’s fear, you can provide problem-solving tools and you can still enforce your normal household rules. You might say something like this: “I know you’re afraid of monsters. You can keep the little night light on and sleep with your bear. You need to go to sleep now.” As we have already mentioned, there is no need to discount the child’s fear (i.e. by saying things like “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”) You can acknowledge the fear and still insist that the child sleep in his or her own room.
Positive Stories can Help
Use stories to help empower children. Kids who are afraid of monsters are usually toddlers and preschoolers; the older a child gets, the less believable monsters are. Younger kids are not likely to believe a parent’s direct reassurance that monsters don’t exist. After all, how would parents know? Maybe they just haven’t seen one. Because of this, indirect methods of communicating are best. Library books with stories of kids who “conquer” monsters can provide relief and an indirect invitation to be courageous in the face of “boogeymen.” In addition, making up stories of children who overcome all sorts of challenges, can help kids feel less helpless and more competent. This helps reduce the insecurity that leads to fears of monsters. Parents might take their child’s name, add a title, and make up adventures. For instance, here is a story that one Mom made up for her son Kevin:
“There was once a little boy named “Kevin-the-Brave.” Kevin-the-Brave took his friends to explore the deep jungles of Africa. He was paddling his boat up the river when he saw a big crocodile up ahead. ‘Quick,’ called Kevin-the-Brave to his friends, ‘throw me a rope! I have to swing it over that branch and pull our boat away from the crocodile. Someone handed Kevin the rope; he threw it high and it landed on a nearby tree. Quickly he tugged on it to pull the boat sharply out of the crocodile’s path and they were saved.”
The story continues with adventure after adventure, with little Kevin always saving the day. These kinds of stories have a tremendously empowering effect on kids, sending messages of courage and strength deep into their little minds. Try it and observe the results!
Use Positive Imagination to Elicit Safety & Comfort
You can encourage positive imagination through comfort objects. Young children can find a little extra comfort in stuffed animals and dolls – especially kids with good imaginations. Imagination, after all, can produce different kinds of images; negative images like scary monsters and protective images like magic bears. Encourage your imaginative child to generate helpful, happy ideas. The more the child does this, the stronger the positive mental habit becomes. Instead of saying, “See, there are no monsters,” you can guide the child to positive thinking by saying, “Here is your friend the Bear to cuddle with. The two of you can sleep together. The bear will keep you company and scare the monsters away.” If possible, get one or two smiley, happy-looking dolls or stuffed toys for the child’s room and put up positive images on the walls (bright, happy-looking pictures). Keep the atmosphere safe and friendly looking. To keep your young child’s mind focused in brighter places, consider playing some sweet lullaby music as he or she drifts off to sleep. Music can calm the anxious mind and distract the child from his or her worry-habit.
Be Careful Not to Reinforce Fears
Avoidance makes fears worse – try not to solve the problem by letting your child sleep in your room in order to escape the monsters in his room! Moreover, be careful not to show significant interest in the fear; keep your interventions brief and low-key. In this way, you will not accidentally reinforce the fear by giving it excessive attention. Simply attend to the child in a calm, brief, matter-of-fact way. “I know you’re afraid. You can keep the night light on. Remember to use your calming techniques. I’ll be downstairs with Dad.”
Provide Protective Presence
If you have the time, it’s fine to stay with your young child for 10 or 15 minutes IN HIS OR HER OWN ROOM until he or she drifts off to sleep. Surviving the experience of being in his or her own room is an important aspect of healing the fear. However, being supported emotionally in the room is fine – the child doesn’t have to go it alone in order to get better. Young children feel most secure (and least bothered by monsters) when their parents or other loved ones stay with them during the transition to sleep. Most kids outgrow the need and desire for this practice once they are school age. Let kids share a room: kids tend to have less monster fears when sharing a room with a sibling. Keep in mind that the fear of monsters is time-limited and you can change sleeping arrangements later on.
Consider Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Therapy is a harmless water-based naturopathic treatment that can ease emotional distress and even prevent it from occurring in the future. Of the 38 Bach Remedies, several are excellent for different types of fear. For instance, Aspen is for vague fears like fear of the dark, fear of ghosts or fear of monsters. The remedy Rock Rose is for panic. If a child loses control due to intense fear, Cherry Plum will return stability. If the child becomes stubborn, absolutely refusing to sleep in his room for example, Vine can help him become more cooperative. Bach Flowers are sold in health food stores around the world. You can mix several together in one treatment bottle. Fill a one-ounce Bach Mixing Bottle (an empty bottle with a glass dropper, sold wherever Bach Remedies are sold) with water. Add two drops of each remedy. Add one teaspoon of brandy. The bottle is now ready to use: place 4 drops in any liquid (juice, water, milk, tea, soup, etc.) and give it to your child 4 times each day: morning, midday, afternoon and evening. Remedies can be taken with or without food. Continue until the fear has dissipated. Treat again if the fear returns. Continue in this way, treating the fear when it is present and stopping treatment when it is not present, until it is simply gone. In this way, a child can become more secure over time and possibly less prone to anxious feelings in the future.
Seek Professional Intervention
If you find that your child is still intensely fearful of monsters even after you have provided self-soothing techniques, do consider accessing professional help. A child-psychologist may be able to treat your child’s fear in a few brief sessions.