With Halloween approaching, it seemed like a good time to look at Teraphobia – or the fear of monsters.
Imaginary friends are an integral part of growing up for many children. These friends can take on many roles; comforter, companion, someone to boss around and someone to blame when things go wrong. They tend to emerge around the age of three when children are beginning to use complex fantasy play to make sense of the world.
Along with the development of abstract thinking comes fear. Fear is a normal part of childhood development and is part of children learning to make sense of the world around them. Aged about three children often make the shift from what we call ‘concrete fears’ that are actually there in real life, such as a fear of thunder and lightning or other people’s big, barking dogs, to ‘abstract fears’ that are not there all the time and are in their heads. This is where the typical ‘monster under the bed’ scenarios come from.
As adults, we often tend to use concrete thinking to solve the problem, for example, looking under the bed for the monster and when they are not there to us, telling the child they have gone. The problem is, that because the monsters are in the child’s head, they are free to pop out of the wardrobe the minute the adults have gone. They are real to the child because they are real in their head. Rather than concrete thinking to solve the problem, we (as adults) have to enter the child’s world and get a bit more abstract with our thinking.
Some things that might work:
- Monster Spray – find (or buy) an empty, brightly coloured spray bottle and design a monster spray either for (or ideally with) your child. Water and a few drops of essential oil work wonders, but please check that’s safe to use in your house. (Water on pine dressers is never a great idea for example.). You can always leave the bottle empty as the ‘puff’ of air may be enough for your child and that also means it cannot run out at the critical moment! You can then make spraying the room and under the bed, or in the wardrobe part of your nightly routine
- Share books about friendly monsters that are age appropriate
- Drawing the monsters – during the day! This might give you some clues as to the origin of their fears, e.g., a monster off a tv show or out of a book
- Writing signs for the monsters to keep out and possibly making somewhere else they can go
- Tea party for the monsters during the day – ‘wake’ them up and make friends
- Make friends with the dark – playing ‘lights out’ games together during the day (with the curtains drawn) such as scavenger hunts with a torch round the house, board games or stories by torch light, going outside as it gets dark earlier and looking at the stars. ‘Midnight’ feasts can also work – my parents used to put my kids to bed when they were little, set all the clocks forward to midnight at about 08:30pm, have a ‘midnight’ feast with them and then everyone got to bed at a sensible time (after the adults had reset the clocks!)
- Playing hide and seek during the day, so your child experiences being scared in a good way as well as having the power to ‘boo’ the adults if they choose
- Giving your child some control over bedtime routine e.g., pyjamas before or after you clean your teeth, which nightlight, which white noise (if used) and so on
- Making a dream catcher together and reading the story about them and how they work
- Essential oils – Rosemary for example is an old Romany remedy along with the more familiar ones such as lavender
- As the adult, think about what they are watching on tv or other media, a predictable bedtime routine and other things you are doing after they go to bed that could scare them like the dishwasher or tumble drier
Always respect your child’s fears and worries and reassure them, please never tell them they are being stupid/ridiculous etc. For your child these fears are real and need to be respected as such. Often they resolve over time, but if they have been persisting for several months, you might want to seek some help to support your child.