Everyone is afraid of something. One of my children is very afraid of flying insects. Early this summer she would literally drop to the ground and scream if a ladybug landed anywhere near her. Never mind that my husband and I reassured her they were harmless, from her perspective this colossal bug was no lady as it swarmed to attack her!
This time of year haunting villains, eerie ghosts, and spooky monsters appear everywhere. Some are crafted to appear friendly and harmless but there are some that can be quite disturbing and scary-even for an adult! They loom on billboards, lurk on shelves at the party store and even glare at us in the check out line at the grocery store. These images may not bother some children but others may be particularly alarmed by these chilling characters.
Nighttime is often when many of these images flood a child’s thoughts. Monsters under the bed, ghosts behind the curtains, and zombies coming up from the floor can all seem very real to children, from toddlers to teens. Being afraid of the dark, being alone, and strange noises can also be fears children struggle with. Young children especially have vivid imaginations. Their ability to discern between reality and imagination is still developing…making it difficult to fend off disturbing images and thoughts. Such creative imaginations can often set up a disruption in a peaceful night’s rest and frightening thoughts during the day.
Parent’s who have children concerned with scary images should encourage their child to explore their fear while conveying empathy with respect for their feelings. Take a few moments to be encouraged as a parent with some ways to talk to you children that help them calm and manage their fears.
1. Turn a problem into an opportunity.
If a child is terrified of zombies or is simply asking questions about ominous characters, parents can use it as an opportunity to help their children manage unhelpful thoughts by encouraging them to talk openly about their fears. Regular open communication builds trust and safety and this is a great moment for parents to promote sharing with their children. This pattern of relating will be of great benefit for both parent and child down the road when their problems are bigger than the boogie man!
2. Acknowledge and assess the fear.
Avoid ignoring your child’s fear or using “man-up” phrases like, “Big girls/boys don’t act like babies.” These types of shaming putdowns communicate that there is something wrong with your child when in fact it is quite normal for him or her to be experiencing these thoughts. Worse, if your child feels they cannot share their fears or concerns with you they will stop telling you about them. Instead of deflecting, try acknowledging their fears and assessing how disturbing it is to them. To understand your child’s perspective ask questions like, “It seems to be bothering you a lot, let’s talk about it?” , “What is the worst part of that character for you?”, or “When you close your eyes, what do you see”? Talk to them about what you were afraid of when you were a child. They will feel more connected to you and calmed by your understanding of their fears.
3. Track the Trigger
If you find your child appears to be experiencing a state of hyper awareness to scary images or has frequent nightmares, you can help your child by minimizing spooky stories, monitoring the television shows they watch, and even being careful about the evening news. These triggers are often a harbinger for nightmares and can intensify your child’s fears. Minimizing their exposure to them will make bedtime less scary. Reinforce with your children that monsters, ghosts, and zombies are imaginary and help them learn how to separate reality from imagination.
It is the parent’s responsibility to promote an environment of peace and safety in the child’s home. Parent’s can model strength so children learn to handle situations by emulation! Remember, be positive, patient, and persistent!