Monsters in the Closet: Settling Children’s Nighttime Fears

When my first child came along and I didn’t know any better, I made the fatal “dad mistake” when it came to helping her battle the monsters in her bedroom. Unwittingly, I would frequently grab a baseball bat and head into her room in hopes of quelling her cries for help by standing ready to battle the imaginary monsters. As I lay on the floor swinging at those nonexistent creatures, I remember shouting out in a Ray Romano like voice from the television show Everyone Loves Raymond “there, I got all those mean monsters and now they are all gone.” 

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But when I got up off the floor and attempted to kiss her goodnight so I could leave, she would announce that the monsters had escaped my attack and were now hiding somewhere else in the room. Each of my next attacks only led to the monsters mysteriously moving to yet another location when finally, my patience would be tried and I would usually end up snapping at her that the monsters were gone and ordering her to “go to sleep.” She would end up crying and I would end up feeling like badly. I would then try to console her and eventually give in to her pleads of something silly like leaving her light on or letting her stay up later as means to helping both of us feel better.

Based on my conversations with many parents, the scene I described above may be going on in many homes in the evening hours; loving parents trying to solve their children’s problems with being frightened at bedtime. Well known pediatrician and expert in child development, T. Berry Brazelton, tells us in his book Touchpoints (Perseus Books, 1992) that fear comes in various forms at different stage levels of the child’s development. 

He points out that the occurrence of this fear must happen in order for the child to develop a sense of self-control over the feelings of fear. The onset of fear activates a sudden surge of adrenalin that serves to teach a child how to handle this physiological reaction and to learn to sooth him or herself in that moment. Throughout the various development stages, a child has a number of life experiences that, without warning, throws him or her off balance. These occurrences provide learning opportunities for the child to adjust and adapt to the surrounding world.

Parents unknowingly play a key role in their child’s fearful experiences by helping them through it, not making a bigger issue of it than it should be. Without this awareness however, many adults inappropriately set out to eliminate the fear from their child’s experience as I had done, and rob the child of the ability to adapt and self-manage their emotions. It is an uncomfortable situation to see your child hurting emotionally and it becomes an automatic reaction of loving and uninformed parents to want to “make it all better” for their child, rather than allowing them to have the full experience. 

Caregivers also get in the way of their child’s normal emotional development by attaching themselves to an experience their child has that simulates one they themselves have had at a younger age. The child suddenly becomes frightened of dogs. Seeing this reaction in their child, it instantly reignites the unresolved fear of dogs the adult had as a child. The adult then relives this childhood fear, adding their own anxiety to that of the child, inappropriately intensifying the fear for the child.

Giving in to the child and focusing on the monsters is not the answer. I suggest to parents that they help their child focus on what to do about the feeling and not on the monster. I encourage adult caregivers I’m working with to help the child focus on what he or she can do to affect his environment that might be causing the fear. By the time my other two children came along, I had learned not to focus on the monster and instead, helped to coach each of them to determine what they could do that would make their room less scary. In other words, acknowledge the feeling of the fear, but then transfer all of the rest of my energy (and theirs) to helping determine what they could do about it. 

When my child would say, "there is a monster in my closet (or under the bed)," I would immediately say "It looks like you’re feeling scared... what do you think you could do to make your room less scary?" Sometimes my child would respond with "I don't know." I would then immediately say "Make believe you know." This seemed to give them permission to be creative. They would then come up with some possible solutions. One time, the solution my young daughter came up with was "I know, I can sleep with you!" I then said "That's a good idea, but Daddy is not willing to have anyone else sleep with him... what else can you come up with?" This exercise encouraged her to continue to generate ideas until she thought of one that I was OK with.

Society puts so much emphasis on each of us working so hard to acquire our academic education, but rarely are we taught about the importance of increasing our emotional intelligence. Strangely enough, our prisons are filled with those who can read, write, and add, but it was most likely their inability to manage their emotions that got them there to begin with. 

The next time your children become fearful about a monster in their closet, simply acknowledge their feelings and then coach them into developing a constructive solution of making their room less scary. The result for them will be feeling like they can adapt, manage their feelings, and realize the power to manipulate their own surroundings to diminish those uncomfortable feelings. It may also lead to you healing unresolved feelings of your own.


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Comments

  1. An effective product that I have found is the Monster Security System at www.MonsterSecuritySystem.com. It works great! the "system" goes beyond regular nightlights because it provides tangible reassurance. My 4 year old had real issues with going to bed as a result of monsters. This system solved the problem immediately. Give it a try!!!

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  2. Jennifer I had the same experience with the Monster Security System. My husband and I were at our wits end when by sister in law told us about this great product. Every night Jacob turns on his Monster unit and sleeps through the night. WE HAVE OUR BED BACK TO OURSELVES!!!! Jacob also seems to have gained some self confidence because he doesn't have to crawl in bed with us. I whole heartedly recommend this for people who are dealing with this issue.

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  3. Hello fellow blogger! Recently I blogged about depression and I used the scenario of a child being afraid of a monster in their closet. When I searched monster in closet I came across your blog and loved the advice you gave here. So I used the picture of the closet monster that you used and gave your name and hyper linked any readers I may have to your blog. I wish you the best! Lori I-Want-To-Know.com

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  4. Thank you Lori. All the best to you and let me know how I can help you. You can see my full site at http://www.CooperativeKids.com.

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  5. You could also check out monster-defense.com. We have a wonderful-smelling spray available now & a fun, illustrated children's story coming out in Dec 2013 that tells the story of a little boy with a monster in his room, and how he overcame his fear of monsters. In researching online prior to writing the book, we read many articles from child & adolescent psychologists and parents about recommended methods for dealing with fear of monsters, and interpreted this into a fun, rhyming story which gives parents direction on how to help & gives kids the tools necessary to overcome their fear.

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  6. Hi Whitney, thanks for reading. I suppose your product may be a good solution and one that I would support. All the best to you and the book coming out.

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  7. I've been making this Monster Away Spray for scared sleepers and it worked like a charm with my almost four-year-old boy. He sprays a little every night, less and less every time, and we haven't *seen* a monster in weeks! I even put some aromatherapy oils in there to give him even more of a sense of calm. http://pioneerperfume.com/2013/11/21/monster-away-spray-recipe-for-scared-sleepers/

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  8. MD/TMJ Syndrome is usually a collection regarding seemingly unrelated symptoms caused by reflexive ways of your muscles connected with biting ALONG WITH chewing. The item comes coming from brain-muscle conditioning purchased through trauma or maybe stress. Just as within all conditioning problems, It truly is changed with correct training, usually without need for different interventions. Be slack-jawed

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