Fear and Dealing with the Monster Under the Bed

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The hardwood floor echoed with the sound of the five-year-olds’ feet as he scurried to his parents’ bedroom. He opened the door and went to wake up his mother. “The monsters are going to get me,” he said wide-eyed and trembling. His mother responded, “Hop in bed. There are no monsters here.” The boy quickly hopped in bed and promptly went to sleep.

Many parents have nighttime visits from their young children due to a variety of fears. Some of the most common fears in childhood include fear of the dark and of monsters. These fears express young children’s concern about being harmed in some way.

The good news is that having childhood fears are a normal part of development. In many ways, fears serve a useful purpose as they teach children how to identify their fears and overcome them. As children get older, they gradually have fewer and fewer fears. Of course this does not help parents in the moment when they get visits in the middle of the night from their children.

There are several steps parents can take to lessen the impact of childhood fears. The first is to talk with the child about his fears and be sympathetic. Encourage the child to accurately evaluate his fear. For example, is there really a monster under the bed? Try to keep the talk about the fear brief as lingering on a particular fear can make it grow bigger.  Generally the younger the child is, the less a fear needs to be talked about.

The second step is to take a child’s fear seriously and not be dismissive. This can be hard to do as parents know that there is no possibility of a monster being under the child’s bed. It can be tempting to ridicule the child or belittle him in front of others. This will just make matters worse and lower the child’s confidence in himself.

The third step is to gently encourage the child to gradually come face to face with his fears. This does not mean trying to force a child into being brave but rather prepare him for sleeping in his bed by himself at night. Sometimes adopting a brief routine before bed where the closet and bed are checked for any monsters can be helpful in allaying the child’s fears.

In addition, parents can give the child a feeling of control by having him use a good luck charm like a stuffed animal with him in bed that serves as protection against any monsters. Another option would be a good luck activity before bed such as the child squeezing the parent’s hand or thinking a special thought that can distract the child from thinking about the monsters. Gradually a child will gain control over his fear and be able to sleep by himself without the bedtime routines.

Fears are very common in young children and it is a normal part of development that most children outgrow as they get older. Parents can help their children get through these fears by listening, showing patience, and discussing with their children how to face their fears and overcome them. Children will soon realize that they have no reason to fear monsters under their bed.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on May 4, 2014.

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