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 within the closet and under the bed. He’s even seen shadows scurrying past the window: “There is a monster in my room!” he exclaims for the one hundredth night in a row. Teary-eyed, but resolute, your child continues refusing to sleep alone. By now, the recurring episodes have started to take a toll on your daily mood and have turned you into a ball of crankiness. What’s worse, your sex life is being sabotaged by a five year old! What to do?
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 very young children have a hard time distinguishing reality from fantasy. Dr. Gwen Dewar in an article entitled: Nighttime Fears in Children helps us to appreciate how easily misleading sensory information can transform the shadow of a pile of clothes into the shadow of a monster.
Experts recommend we explore the possible causes of the fear without making any personal inferences. They also recommend providing children with some control over their environment. For instance; providing an easily accessible source of light that they can switch on at will can help children battle their fears. In the times we are living it is not exaggerated to say that we are under a barrage of fear inducing rhetoric that not only scares the wits out of children, but adults as well. Therefore, limiting children’s exposure to television, the internet, video games, and even some children’s books could help to avoid unnecessary anxiety .
Handling the Dilemma Delicately
We do not want to wait until its night time to address children’s fears of the dark. It is more appropriate to talk about these issues during daylight hours while children are wide awake and slightly more rational. The key to winning the battle against these irrational fears is to help children realize that “monsters” only exist in the imagination. It is also good to reassure children that we are their devout protectors and will do everything in our power to keep them safe. It is also important to avoid expounding on subjects that are likely to arouse fear in children. For instance, when talking to young children about stranger awareness simply stating that children are to stay away from people they do not know should be enough. Explaining to a very young child that strangers can abduct, harm, or kill is really counterproductive and will trigger enormous anxiety. As children get older they will be able to process information better, and may begin to ask questions that call for more detailed explanations.
This may also be the perfect time to introduce a pet into our home or cut Fido some slack by letting it sleep in the room close to your child. Few things can offer more comfort and offer a greater sense of security than a beloved pet. However, if a dog or cat is out of the equation for whatever reasons, a cuddly teddy bear can be the perfect substitute. Children of all ages love teddy bears and is no wonder that according to a survey commissioned by Build-a-Bear workshop, more than half of American adults still have their childhood teddy bears. Teddy bears can serve as “transitional objects” and have been known to help children manage stress successfully. Again, make it a point to talk children about things that are real versus things that are not. Playing a memory game that classifies things into real world and fictitious can help define the blur between fantasy and reality. If the fear is about things lurking outside, teaching children how adults stay safe themselves is also very important. Explain how knobs and latches keeps us safe from outside elements.
Certainly it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint the exact cause of certain fears. Some theorists suggest that irrational fears of the dark are triggered by a lingering ancestral fear of the unknown. The hypothesis surges from the fact that for a large chunk of human history children were part of hunter-gatherer communities exposed to all the elements of the wilderness. For this reason the young were guarded around the clock for the slightest neglect could have spelled death for the child. In fact, in most parts of the world children still sleep with their parents past their early childhood years. Only in western countries are children as young as three and four expected to sleep alone.
Note: If you suspect a child’s fear have been triggered by a recent event than your child may be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and you may have to consult with a specialist.
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 a “monster” resides, visit the spot along with your child during daylight hours. Find out if there is something causing a shadow to appear in the night and 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. Letting children know that being afraid is a normal part of the human experience can help them look at their fears more objectively. Explain what you do to make yourself relax and feel safe. Maybe you read the holy scriptures. If so, why not teach your child some comforting passages.
- Make sure to eliminate sugar intake during evening hours, since these can over stimulate the body and the imagination.
- A relaxing bath with some aromatherapy oils like chamomile or lavender can definitely help children to relax.
- Reading bedtime stories that reassure children that they are safe, are also a good starting point to encourage children to sleep on their own, and to feel safe.
- Books like “Where the Wild Things Are” are a great way to visit the subject of monsters in a safe, creative fashion.
- offer your child relaxation music at bedtime.
- 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:email@example.com
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