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Helping Children Overcome Fears of Monsters and the Boogey Man
A young child’s home can be a joyful place of play and fun time with Mommy and Daddy. Unfortunately, home can also be a terrifying place with monsters under the bed, boogey men in the closet, and goblins outside the windows. These creatures may populate a child’s dreams and cause heart-stopping nightmares and night terrors.
As parents, we long to slay the beasties, but conquering these scary figments of the imagination can be difficult for us. We may be sleep-deprived and desperate for solutions when we are faced with a screaming child. We can start to deal with our child's night terrors by understanding how children see the world.
Young children have a creative and vivid imaginations and sometimes struggle to understand the difference between fantasy and reality. They live in a world where Santa Claus brings presents on Christmas Eve and the tooth fairy flits into their rooms to take their teeth and pay for them. The world is a magical place where anything can happen. Unfortunately, children's fertile imaginations can also populate their homes with all kinds of scary beasts as well.
There are a number of things that we as parents can do to calm our son’s or daughter’s fears of scary things that go bump in the night.
Believe the fears of monsters is real
We tend to dismiss childhood anxieties as a phase that will disappear with time. Yet, for children, monsters are a frightening part of their small world. Instead, we Moms and Dads should acknowledge our child's fear of the beasties. It may be helpful for us to talk to our child about the fears we had in childhood. That way the child is reassured that his fears can be overcome.
Some experts in child psychology recommend that parents empower their children to be monster slayers. They suggest that parents walk through the house with their children and encourage them to use creative methods to eliminate the monsters. If the children are too afraid, the parents take on the role of monster eliminator. Other experts disagree with this practice, saying that it reinforces the idea that the scary creatures are real. We parents need to consider the child's age and the situation to determine what the best approach is for their child.
Comfort your child
Children need to be soothed and comforted when they are feeling anxious and fearful. If our child refuses to explain why she is upset, we can ask her what she needs in order to feel comfortable and safe. When we embrace our child, times like this reassure her that we love her and will do all that we can to protect her from anything harmful. A parent’s nurturing attitude strengthens the parent-child bond and builds the child’s trust in his parent’s ability to handle scary situations.
On the other hand, if parents makes insensitive comments or ridicule their children’s fears, their children shut down and will be less likely to come to their parents when they are troubled.
Talk about it
The mystery that surrounds a monster elevates the fear factor in our children. There are several ways we can decrease our child’s anxiety levels such as:
- Encouraging the child to talk about his fears
- Assuring the child that the monster is friendly and will not harm him
- Asking the child for the monster’s name
- Asking if the monster is a boy or a girl
- Telling the child to describe the creature or to draw a picture of what he thinks it looks like (if the picture resembles a cartoon, stop the child from viewing that TV program for a while)
- Asking the child to explain what the monster is doing
We parents have a responsibility to help our children understand the difference between reality and fantasy. We must emphasize the truth that monsters are pretend characters from storybooks and TV that can’t harm them.
De-monster the home
Check your child’s room after dark to make sure that there are no scary shadows. Walk through the potentially frightening sections of your home with your child to reassure her that there are no monsters there. You can also check the room with your child at bedtime so that she knows that there are no scary beasties lurking in there. If your child is scared of sounds or shadows, discuss some possible causes of them with her.
Determine what stimuli in the child’s environment may be triggering your child’s fears. Since young children can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality, they may be scared by what they watch on TV. Parents should minimize exposure to scary stories, movies, or even the news, which also can be frightening. Parents should talk to their child about the difference between TV fantasies and the real world.
You can read books to your child about friendly monsters or watch a movie like “Monster’s Inc.” There are many good books available on the subject from your local bookstore or library.
You can give your child a sense of safety by creating a monster-bashing plan. A lineup of teddy bears on a windowsill can stand guard. An object can be designated to keep the monsters away like a flashlight or a monster-repelling bracelet or special T-shirt worn in bed.
Your child is also less likely to feel afraid if he have a strategy to deal with his fears, such as saying, “Go away, monster” or singing a monster song. A spray bottle with water can become a magic monster repellent that is kept by the child’s bed. When a child feels capable to dealing with the creatures, he is less likely to be afraid.
Arts and crafts projects are another method that parents can use to demonstrate that monsters are not scary, such as making a mask or drawing a picture of the creature.
Build your relationship with your child
Remain positive if your child’s fears persist. Consider this time as an opportunity to encourage your child to come to you with her problems, and to build parent-child trust. A talk about the situation and these strategies will establish lines of communication that will encourage your children to come to you with bigger problems in the future. Know that your child’s fears are only temporary and will disappear with time.
© 2013 Carola Finch