Our imaginations were never more active, nor more suggestible, than when we were children. We hide and tremble underneath the sheets, our imaginative minds birthing monstrosities from the darkness, just knowing that taking one tiny peak could reveal a Monster standing at the foot of the bed. A nightlight or flashlight would have revealed that nothing was there, yet our very creative imaginations would still probe every nook, and cranny, carefully placing monsters into these perfect hiding spaces. Under the bed and closet doors posed to be the largest threat of all, in front of the biggest recession, in the whole room. Behind it, nightmarish forms festered and grew. The general rule of thumb, if the monster cannot be seen, then we can’t be seen by the monster. However, the less we could see of them, the bigger, and more fearsome, they would become, with the single most important rule being: the less known, the scarier and meaner.
Children, know relatively little about the world compared to adults and it can be a scary place, where monsters rent out very literal parts of their realities, living in the spaces that facts have yet to fill. Now add in other factors like darkness, exposure to disturbing media, and or problems at home and school, and these monsters can start making themselves unwanted guests in your home. As parents, we sometimes forget that, though we have the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality, unfortunately our children can’t always do the same. We become frustrated and impatient; but reacting this way only makes our children less inclined to seek help, and their monsters more likely to stick around, prolonging nightmares not only for the child, but the parents as well. Listening, discussing, and most importantly understanding where your child is coming from will not only benefit the child, but you the parent as well.
An intrepid, free-spirited six-year-old by day can become a bona fide momma’s boy by night, because when the sun sets, kids regress. As parents, it is our responsibility to let our children know we are here for them, and that they shouldn’t be embarrassed if they feel afraid. They should also never be made to feel silly for having “irrational” or “baseless” fears. Keep in mind: for children, the monsters may not be real, but the fear always is. Once we establish a strong foundation of understanding and respect, it becomes much easier to talk about the fear at hand, and in turn, to eliminate it.
The next step is trying to reinforce the line between fantasy and reality. Explore the inside of your child’s closet with them—push clothes aside, shuffle boxes—and tell them that, as they can see, there are no monsters. Saying things like “It looks like the monster left,” or trying to convince them the monster is friendly, only serves to validate the fear, and further blurs their line between fact and fiction. Again, the more factual information they receive, the less room there is for the imagined kind.
Sometimes, no matter how much reassurance you give some children that monsters aren’t real, there will still be some children that still insist that the monster exists, so it’s important to understand that the previous step discussed may not work for every child. In a study conducted by researchers at Tel Aviv University, they discovered that preschoolers with persistent nighttime fears were much less able to distinguish reality from fantasy compared to their peers. Are you now thinking, “Ok great!”? Well don’t, there’s hope. Not being able to separate the fantasy from reality can be a way to actually help your child overcome their fears by using their imagination to redirect their fear. This step tends to work great for children with large imaginations. Here are few creative ways:
Give your child their favorite stuffed animal and tell them that the stuffed animal is very scared and needs their help. This gives your child responsibility to care for his favorite stuffed animal, you're redirecting his fear, and ensuring him he's not afraid at night. This idea solely depends on how willing your child is to believe that the stuffed animal is scared.
Using a spray bottle, make "Monster Spray" to help spray away monsters. You can fill the spray bottle with just water or you can add a touch of lavender oil (which will help with calming your child.) You can create a label to go on your spray bottle with titles such as: "Monster B Gone", "Goodbye Monsters", "No More Monster", "Monster Eliminator", etc. I've created a few different monster labels that you can download. Choose & click on a label to download file.
Write a letter from your child stating that they would like to be friends and mail it to the monster. Even if you have to go as far as having your child place the letter in your mailbox, do it, it can't hurt.
Find children's books that take a threatening creature which ends up showing your child that instead, the monster is actually friendly (or a variation of the sort.) Here are a couple great books that I have gotten for my son, "I Need My Monster" & "Hey, That's My Monster!" by: Amanda Noll. I love this author, her books are very well written, have beautiful, colorful illustrations, and are downright adorable!
"Hey, That's My Monster!" by:Amanda Noll
But imagination doesn’t necessarily deserve all the blame. Stress and anxiety—for example, the kind incurred during parents’ divorce—are fantastic monster-fuel. Other outside sources, like T.V., movies, video games, and even books, can inspire dark imaginings, too. The expectation of understanding and respect will help your child open up to you about what’s bothering them, or what they’ve been exposed to, instead of hiding it out of shame or fear.
THINGS YOU SHOULD AVOID
There are many things that should be avoided to prevent making the issue worse. It's never a good choice to punish your child for being afraid, or forcing you child to deal with their fear. Doing so will most likely throw mutual understanding out the door and make the situation worse.
Phrases to avoid:
"You're being ridiculous, there's no such thing as monsters!"
"Just go back to bed, I'm too tired for this nonsense!"
"There's no reason to be scared"
"Stop acting like a baby!"
Finally, a child who feels empowered will get over his/her fears faster than one who does not. Lack of control invites fear almost as readily as a lack of knowledge; let your child dictate (within reason) how often, and at what times, they’ll be checked on, then respect these assignments and stick to them. As you continue to adhere, you will nurture their sense of control, until eventually the sense itself, and not your constant presence, will get them through the night. As a parent, it's important to keep a strong connection with our child(ren). It's our job to make them feel safe, secure, and be their support system, to help them achieve conquering their fears. Since every child is different, you may need to adjust some of these steps at your own discretion.
Is your child afraid of monsters or have you had a child that used to be afraid of monsters? What creative steps have/did you take to help your child conquer their fears? I look forward to reading your comments!