How to Deal with Monsters, Bad Dreams, and other Scary and Frightening Things
1) Read stories and watch shows that debunk traditional monster fears. Stories that represent other children bravely or humorously while facing their fears can be wonderful at allaying false beliefs. When my granddaughter was three, and struggling with the monster stories that were being cast her way at daycare, I bought the movie “Monsters Inc.” and we watched it over and over. Not only did she reframe in her mind what a monster really was (a cuddly and sweet creature that protects little girls) she challenged the older children’s belief system at daycare!
2) Provide soft lighting in your child’s room. A lot of the mysterious and scary thoughts surface in darkness, and light helps restore a child’s confidence in the stability of the here and now. Don’t worry about how long a child utilizes the nightlights. They will let you know when they’ve had enough.
3) Make a sign and put it on your child’s door that reads, “Only nice monsters allowed.” That way, your child has control over who visits his or her imagination.
4) If your child fears the “under the bed” creatures. Put the mattress right on the floor. No under the bed frights can happen then!
5) While removing scary scenarios is logical, ie: closing the closet door, searching the room to make sure the coast is clear, it is more reasonable to reevaluate what a monster is. If the child learns to look at it a different way, or with familiarity, they can learn to conquer their fear and misconceptions. “James and the Giant Peach” is another wonderful movie, for the slightly older child, about looking at fearful scenarios and beings in a different way.
6) If your child wakes up afraid of a nightmare they had, talk about what they dreamed about that was so frightening. Sharing fearful experiences and making your child aware that everyone has bad dreams sometimes, but teaching them to separate dreams from reality can give your child control over their fears.
7) When your child decides they no longer want a nightlight, give them a flashlight. That way they continue to control their environment. This concept is key: controlling their environment and belief system!
8 ) Favorite stuffed lovies are essential. When they are surrounded by their favorite stuffed animals, they are not facing their fears alone. These stuffed creatures allay fears and comfort children in times of illness as well.
9) Play monster! When you play monster and your child starts to associate monster with a fun game, the fear goes out of it. Coloring monsters is also a great way to debunk the myth. See who can draw the funniest monster!
10) If your child is afraid of thunder and lightning storms, sit with them in the dark and play a game of counting how many seconds between the lightening and the thunder clap. See if the two of you can roar louder than the thunder!
11) Eliminate violent books, movies and cartoons. These only serve to feed the frightful and harmful parts of a child’s imagination. Be careful what you watch and listen to as well. Small ones have the biggest eyes and ears!
12) Don’t devalue the genuineness of your child’s beliefs and fears. Sit with them and tell them about what scared you when you were a kid and how you conquered them, ie: “I learned that it was my imagination and not real.” This will help your child to normalize their own fears and recognize that he or she is in control of their own emotions.
13) Try not to invite your child to your bed. Instead, stay with your child in their bedroom until they are adequately comforted and back to sleep. The former can set a bad routine that is very hard to break and only reinforces that their own bedroom is to be feared.
14) If your child is afraid of shadows, use daylight to teach them about shadows, or set up a light and play shadow puppet games. Again, you are fostering understanding of a misconception when you do this.
It is normal for every child to have fears at some time or another. How you teach your child to negotiate these fears will set them up with a lifetime of healthy habits for negotiating even bigger, and more real, fears that will come their way!
Sharon Cramer is a registered nurse, mom of three and author of Marlow and the Monster (July 2012). www.talkingbirdbooks.com.