A PSP member asks:
"What do you do when your child starts talking a lot about monsters, (i.e., "Are there monsters in my bed?" "Are monsters going to get me?”) Do you tell them that monsters don’t exist, or do you do things to help ward them off?"
Here are PSP members' answers, advice, and book recommendations.
- Monster Spray: Make "Monster Spray" with a spritz bottle to spray around your child’s bed before bedtime. They actually sell this stuff under the names "monster spray," "ghost dust," "witch powder," "monster-go-away spray,” and "boo buster" (with a bubble gum scent so you know it’s working), just to name a few.
- Make "No Monsters Allowed" signs to put up on your child’s door or somewhere in the house.Use this to "chase away" all kinds of scary things, such as witches, boogey men, etc.
- Dream Catcher: Since monster fears are often related to bad dreams, putting up a "dream catcher" near your child’s bed can help him or her feel more sure that there will be no monsters or bad dreams during the night.
- Chinese Props: There are certain Chinese characters who are supposed to ward off evil spirits so that your child will not have bad dreams, etc.
- Bedtime Ceremony. Reduce your child’s fear by opening closets, looking under the bed, or making a ceremonial "shield" around the bed, room, family, and house to ward off any monsters
- Give your child tools to master the fear. Fears can be related to "control" issues, and Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley can give your child a sense of control. Remember that fear is a very real emotion, even if your child is old enough to know that monsters are not real. Make sure to validate your child's emotions (i.e., "That must be scary") and not Invalidate them (i.e., "Oh, you’re being silly. Monsters don’t exist").
What your child can say:
- Ask your child what we have to do to make the monster go away. Help at first, such as by asking, "Should we say something in a scary voice? What should we say?" Do the recommended behavior (i.e., say it first, then have your child say it.) Then ask if it worked. If it doesn’t, try something else. This approach gives the child the feeling that he or she is doing something to help.
- If at bedtime your child is feeling afraid of something, shout "You go away [insert feared thing here]! Leave us alone!" or some variation on that theme. It really seems to help a lot. If your child really gets into it, it can be very empowering for him or her to be part of the solution to the problem.
- The "Monsters are pretend" approach: Depending on the age of your child, you may want to try this: Say "Monsters are pretend. They are only in the TV. When the TV goes off, they go away." Then turn off an imaginary TV, and--poof!--they're gone! It may be hard to try to convince toddlers and young preschoolers the concept of "nonexistence." When they are older, you may be able to talk about what is "real" and "not real."
- Say good night to the monsters and the usage of a monitor (where the other parent played the complicit monster). Details are foggy but a google search might pull something up. But if your house is like mine there is typically only one of us at bed time.
What you can do:
- Try to change the image of monsters from being scary to being something not to fear. For example, you might say, "Elmo is a monster, and so are Telly, Zoe, and Cookie on Sesame Street, and they are nothing to be afraid of." Consider giving your child a stuffed Elmo or Cookie Monster to sleep with because, of course, they are friends with all the other monsters and will tell them to leave your child alone.
- Similarly, as one parent shares, "with monsters, in the daytime, we sometimes "play" monsters in the same way we play house - I'm the mommy monster and she's the baby monster. Often, baby monster wears a pink dress and cries because she's thirsty for milk. I imagine that this exposure to pretend creatures in a safe environment that she has control over somehow makes them not something to fear?"
- Provide information. "My three year old came plodding into our bedroom at about 4am a couple nights and told me there was a snake in her bed. So convincingly that I actually checked! You know your daughter best but what worked with ours at the time was a straightforward conversation about snakes - I sat by her bed and we talked about how they shed their skin, what foods they like to eat, where we've seen snakes, how they move, what the scales feel like, and the two snakes that lived in my front yard growing up that we named Fred and Ethel. For her, information makes things not scary anymore."
- Reinforce your role as parent. Tell your child that it’s YOUR job to protect him or her and that he or she doesn’t have to worry about anything because you’re "on the case." Tell your child that YOU are not afraid of monsters and that if you see one, you will tell it to go home.
- It could just be a stage. Some kids develop a new "separation anxiety" between 24-30 months related to their growing independence which may be related to these kinds of fears. Some have said that monsters/fears serve as a way for kids to channel anger that they don't know how to handle.
- Specifically for monsters, I tell my younger son: you don't know this yet because you are still little, but I know and other grownups and big kids know that there are no monsters. When I was a kid I thought there were monsters too but then I found out that monsters are just pretend. But you don't know that yet, so for now I'll protect you. He finds that funny and, for a while, asked me to say it every night as I put him to bed. I started this when he was 3. Once he turned 4, he changed it a little bit to: I know a little that there aren't monsters because I'm a little bigger. It has helped a lot."
Note, this list only contains titles that deal specifically with monsters not fear of the dark, nightmares, or other feelings.
The Moose in the Dress by Bruce Balan
Go Away Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley
Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban
Lily Takes a Walk by Satoshi Kitamura
There’s a Nightmare in the Closet by Mercer Mayer
There’s Something in My Attic by Mercer Mayer
There’s an Alligator Under My Bed by Mercer Mayer
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
What’s Under My Bed by James Stevenson
Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone (a Sesame Street title featuring Grover)
My Mama Says there aren’t any Zombies, Ghosts, Vampires, Creatures, Demons, Monsters, Fiends, Goblins, or Things by Judith Viorst
Can’t You Sleep Little Bear? by Martin Waddell
Let’s Go Home Little Bear by Martin Waddell