Talking to Children About Monsters
Fear is normal in children. It’s one of the earliest emotions and may show up when we least expect it. It’s also an important learning opportunity. Talking about it can aid your child’s emotional growth.
Fear varies by age and child:
Babies may develop stranger anxiety when confronted with someone they don’t know and later separation anxiety when parents leave them in child care.
Toddlers may develop fears of new or noisy things, such as the toilet or vacuum cleaner. They also may be terrorized by animals, the dark, and life-sized, costumed characters ranging from Santa Claus to Halloween ghouls.
Between ages 2 and 6, children’s increasing ability to create mental images of people, animals, and objects enables them to imagine monsters in the closet or under the bed. Strange sounds on the roof or shadows in a corner may fill them with dread.
By school age, children begin to have fears about real things that might happen to them, such as a car wreck, burglar in the house, or tornado. Children develop fears at different ages and in varying intensities. What scares one child may delight another. Jonas is afraid of snakes, for example, while Ruby is fascinated with them.
What do children already know?
For preschoolers, the line between fantasy and reality is blurred. They may enjoy watching characters in movies like Monsters, Inc. and the Cookie Monster on Sesame Street, but they can panic when they see the same character in person. Bedtime can be especially challenging because children may be afraid of the dark, being alone, or hearing strange sounds.
How do parents respond?
You can help your child overcome his/her fears of monsters by asking questions, providing information, and showing how others react to monsters.
Observe these guidelines:
Show compassion for child’s fears about monsters. Avoid putdowns such as “That’s silly.” Remember that fear is real to a child. The goal is to learn how to handle fear in a positive way.
Model strength. Children rely on you to keep them safe. They learn to handle situations by imitating what you do. Sometimes courage is a matter of taking action.
Review books, videos, websites and other materials about monsters before sharing them with children. Consider whether the message is reassuring or may intensify fears.
Start conversations with books
Reading a book about monsters allows your child to express their feelings in a safe environment. When a child shares and compares his/her fears, the scary world becomes smaller and more controllable.
Invite your child to make believe they are Mom and Dad tucking their child in bed to sleep. Pretend that the child is afraid of something under the bed.
Also try showing pictures of Mardi-Gras celebrations and/or Halloween. Put on a costume and paint your face in front of your child. Then ask “How did I change how I look? Is this still me?”
Provide beads, hats, wigs, and scarves and invite your child to dress up and stage a parade. As your child becomes comfortable with costumes, add masks. Face coverings are frequently frightening to children so proceed respectfully.
For your school age child invite them to investigate legendary creatures such as the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas and Nessie the monster reputed to dwell in the Loch Ness in Scotland. Ask questions, such as:
How did legends like these come about?
Why are we interested in such stories?
Do you think the strange creatures could be real or not?
Fearfulness of monsters and of more realistic threats like bullies, barking dogs, and abandonment is an expected and appropriate response to a world that is too big for a child to control. When you help children identify their fears and offer them techniques for taming scary monsters you provide vital tools for helping children regulate their emotional and social selves.
This article is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.