When Monsters Strike!
So your child is scared to go to sleep in his own bed. He claims that there are funny little noises coming from the closet, under the bed, and even by the window. He’s even seen strange shadows. “There is a monster in my room!” your child claims teary-eyed, but with firm resolution. You are tired of having to take your child into your bed every night and what’s worse, your sex life is suddenly being sabotaged. What to do?
For one, do not take your child’s fear for granted, nor turn it into a joke. Children’s fears are very real, so real that if we are not careful we may plant seeds of distrust that may follow them for life. Of course, the first thing we may want to do is see where the fears may be stemming from. Television, the internet, video games, and even stories in children books can trigger fear in very young children. Even a casual conversation you may have held with another adult in the presence of your child about some recent event, could have somehow caused a negative emotional response in your child. In these times we are living it is not exaggerated to say that we are constantly being bombarded by fear inducing propaganda that not only scare children, but adults as well.
Handling the Dilemma Delicately
During daylight hours talk to your child about things that are real, and things that are not. This distinction is very key in helping children with night-related fears. Avoid talking about subjects that may seem too frightening to a child. For instance, if you have to talk to your child about stranger awareness, just simply state that they are to stay away from people they do not know. Telling a child that strangers abduct, harm, or even kill, can trigger enormous anxiety in children. If you feel it necessary to sleep with your child until he feels secure do so, but avoid the child coming to your bed since this can quickly become a hard habit to break. Another good idea, would be a pet. Cats and dogs love to cuddle in the night, and they can definitely make a child feel less lonely. However, if a dog or cat is out of the question, a teddy bear can be a lovely substitute as a security blanket.
Sometimes it can be very difficult, if not impossible to determine what exactly can cause a child to develop nighttime fears and what triggers the idea of monsters. One theory is that for most of human history, children were part of hunter-gatherer communities and were never left alone. Since such predicament would have certainly spelled death for the child due to the ever present threat of wild animals, adults stood at close-proximity to children day and night. In fact, in most parts of the world children sleep with their parents way beyond their early childhood years. Only in western countries are children as young as three and four expected to sleep alone.
According to the results of a study of Dutch children, over 73% of kids aged 4-12 years experienced fear at night (Muris et al 2001) . These fears are real, for a very young child cannot yet distinguish clearly between reality and fantasy, and so the shadow of a pile of clothes may easily be translated into the shadow of a monster, explains Dr. Gwen Dewar in an article entitled: Nighttime Fears in Children. Therefore, we should never take our children’s fears lightly. Even as adults, we may at times feel uneasy about being alone in darkness, and how grateful we are when someone we love understands our fears, as unjustifiable as these may be.
However, for the sake of a child’s emotional growth we must teach children to realize that there is nothing in the dark that is not also there during daylight hours. Again, make it a point to talk children about things that are real, and things that are not. You can even invent a memory game that classifies things in the real world (people, animals, etc.), and those in fantasy worlds (dragons, fairies, witches on brooms, etc.). Also teaching children how adults stay safe is very important. Show them how the locks in a door function to keep outsiders out, and how closed windows or window guards also protect from intruders. Note: If a child’s fear have been triggered by a recent event that has touched his life directly, please consult with a specialist ASAP.
To get you on the road to helping your child cope with nighttime anxiety, here are some great tips:
- Start by showing our children how shadows are formed.
- Play games with them in the dark, such as “tag” with a flashlight.
- If your child claims there is a region in the room where he thinks resides a “monster” visit the spot during the day with your child, and find out if there is something there causing a shadow to appear in the night. If so remove it.
- Be creative. Come up with ideas on how to destroy the monster. Maybe a water filled spray bottle, labeled “Monster Buster” can help get rid of the problem (you can add some food coloring to make it more exciting). Help your child spray the region, and assure him that the product is potent and works.
- Talk about your own fears, and let children know what you do to feel safe. Maybe you read the holy scriptures. If so, why not teach your child some comforting passages.
- Make sure to eliminate sugar food intake during evening hours, since these can over stimulate the body.
- A relaxing bath with some aromatherapy oils like chamomile or lavender can definitely help to relax children.
- Reading bedtime stories that reassure children that they are safe, are also a good way to encourage children to sleep on their own, and to feel safe.
- A book like “Where the Wild Things Are” are a great way to visit the subject of monsters in a creative and fun fashion.
- Have your child go to sleep while listening to relaxation music, or to a favorite song.
- If you want to know more on relaxation strategies that can help children to feel safe and relax you can purchase the book MAKING SENSE OF CHILDREN’S SENSES now available in book stores near you.
You can contact Monique Rodriguez by email at:firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: This article is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians. The reader should regularly consult a physician in matters relating to his/her health or the health of children, and particularly with respect to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention