When little kids say they're afraid of monsters — and know that teraphobia is a near-universal fear among preschoolers — the thing you shouldn't do is to dismiss their terror, saying things like, "They're not real. You're imagining things. Just don't think about it." Instead, help them use their vivid imaginations for empowerment.
For some parents, that means making "monster spray" — taking a spray bottle and going through the nightly ritual of spraying the closet, underneath the bed, behind the curtains, wherever the creatures may lurk. Monster-vanishing powders, swords and swatters can also be effective weapons. Others parents dress their children up in monster PJs (because monsters are afraid of other monsters, of course).
One of the most helpless and frustrating moments as a parent is when our kids have irrational fears, and nothing we say seems to help them cope. It's perfectly natural for a child to be afraid of the dark, of course, but how can we help them overcome these fears?
One solution I really love is to have the child "dress up" the monster in their mind. As in, put outrageous clothes on it. Hillary Frank, host of The Longest Shortest Time podcast included this idea from a mum in her list of parenting wins.
"My oldest (6) has a vivid imagination and couldn't get a scary image out of his head. We were in his bed together trying to get him to fall asleep. I asked if he would describe the image to me. He started to, but got scared all over again. The most I can gather was it was some sort of monster creature from a cartoon that made a weird noise in a brief cameo.
"We talked about ways to make it not so scary. That too often we try not to think about it, but that just makes us think about it more. So, we started dressing it up. He suggested a baby bonnet and a pacifier. Then, he added a blown-up swimming doughnut and clown shoes. Soon, he was giggling about Minion underwear and lots of bracelets. We were talking to the monster, and he said, 'Hey monster, how do you like these bananas on your head?!' and would shoot out his arm like a magician. Instead of being afraid, he got to be in charge again. He still brings up this night, nearly a year later, and we'll add another funny article of clothing or accessory."
— Kelli, Winslow, ME
The process allows the kid to change his own story by adding to it, not ignoring it. Can't we apply the lesson to all of our biggest fears? In the end, everyone can sleep peacefully, even the monster wearing a baby bonnet.