“Mommy, Mommy!!! There’s a monster in the closet!”
What do you do when your child is afraid of monsters?
When you search “child afraid of monsters” on Google or Pinterest, one of the most common solutions that pops up is to use “monster spray.” You use a spray bottle full of water to spray your child’s room before they go to bed to ensure there are no monsters so that they can rest easy.
As a therapist who has worked with many children who struggle with nighttime fears, I’ve had many frustrated parents come to me after using “monster spray” for months to no avail.
When our children come to us to comfort them in their fear, they need to know that they are safe and can rest protected in our love. Monster spray and other quick-fix solutions tell our children that they are safe because of a spray we are using instead of in a safe and attached relationship with us.
Monster spray can also feed into fear. Using the spray leaves our children with the impression that monsters could be real and in their room, and we are just pushing them away with the spray. What we want to do instead is to help our children get investigative about their fears and understand the truth behind them – in this case, the truth is that monsters aren’t real, and there aren’t any in their room.
Let’s look at some ways we can better support our children through these fears:
Fully Accept Their Fear
Let your child know that you are fully okay with their fear, that you aren’t afraid of their fear, and that you want to hear more about their fear. This reassures them that fear itself is nothing to be scared of.
If we are continually telling our children, “Don’t be scared,” “It’s so silly that you’re scared of monsters,” and so on, we are teaching them that it’s not okay to be scared and that if they come to us when they are afraid, we are going to laugh it off or tell them to “man up.”
Fully accepting their fears sounds like:
- “It’s okay to be scared.”
- “You are really scared, I hear you.”
- “It sounds like you are really worried about monsters under your bed; let’s talk about it.”
Explore the Fear
The next thing we want to do is get curious and explore this fear. It’s hard to help our children with their anxiety if we don’t know where the fear is coming from. While some children may be able to explain why they are afraid of the monsters in their room, many children will have a hard time talking about their fear, or they won’t have the vocabulary or the language skills necessary to explain how they are feeling.
You could explore their fear with them through drawing, playing out the fear with toys, role-playing, or even having them talk about their fear with a puppet or stuffy instead of you. The most important thing to do is stay curious and help your child understand where the fear is coming from.
Calm & Confident Reassurance
After getting curious and exploring the fear, we want to provide our children with calm and confident reassurance that they are safe.
“There are no monsters underneath your bed, I promise.”
It can also be helpful to tell our children a story of sameness—a story about a time when we were scared and what helped us overcome that fear.
“When I was your age, I’d get scared too. At night it would help me to say, “I am safe. I am in my bed, and my mom and dad are right down the hall in their bed”.
“I remember when I was scared of monsters in my room. It helped when Grandma and I drew pictures of my fear together. Do you want to draw about the monsters?”
Consider Possible Solutions
Finally, we want to collaborate with our children and provide them with tools to help reduce their fear and rest easy.
There are so many different tools that you can use for this. You could let your child pick out a favourite stuffy to cuddle with at night, or you could leave a night light or a hall light on so it’s not pitch dark in their room.
You could also teach them calming tools like breathing exercises, visualization, or calming words. We provide lots of examples of calming tools in our Solving Bedtime Battles for Little Kids course.
Examples of calming tools:
Blow out the candle
Put up your index finger and ask your child to do the same. Ask them to blow out the pretend candle. This helps them take a big deep breath in a fun way.
Five senses activity
This tool can help bring you and your child back to the present moment when feeling overwhelmed. We can encourage them to think of one thing they can see, touch, hear, smell, and taste.
Teach your child mantras they can repeat to themselves when they are having a hard time sleeping: “I am safe, I am in my bed, my parents know where I am.”
Remember that it is developmentally appropriate for little children to have fears of monsters, snakes, bugs, etc., and what they need in those moments is to know that they are safe and can rest protected in our love. Our children don’t need a special spray to feel safe. They need us.