Helping children overcome fears
Keener developed a fear of monsters last month. For 6 consecutive nights he would tell me he was scared of monsters, ask questions about them, and call me back into his room sobbing after I put him down for the night.
While at first I felt like he was “playing me,” I decided this wasn’t the case. He truly was scared of monsters once it was dark in his room. I started with my validating approach as I didn’t want to belittle his feelings but quickly realized that wasn’t enough.
Keener’s 3 year old brain appears to be quickly developing in terms of making connections and trying to understand fantasy vs. reality. I will often over hear him repeating back things I have told him about other fears, “The thunder is outside, we are inside. We are safe.” and I know that giving him the language has helped him overcome some of the scary feelings he has been experiencing. Below are some of the other strategies I tried over the course of this scary monster interrupted sleep week:
Talk About Feelings
I have started talking to Keener much more about feelings. Keener, feelings are things that come and go. We may feel happy one minute if we find a toy we had been looking for and feel scared the next minute when we hear a strange noise. Feelings come and feelings go which is great! If you are feeling scared or worried, you know that you are not always going to feel that way. You might feel scared of the bear in the book for a few minutes but then that feeling will pass.
Discuss Reality vs. Fantasy
We have talked a lot more recently about things that are real compared to things that are made up. We see a dog in a picture and discuss that he is not real but see our dog Hank and notice ways that he is real. The characters in this book are not real. The author used his imagination and made them up! There are books about real things such as this book about excavators! Those are photographs of real excavators. However, Fly Guy and Buzz are made up characters! The author, Tedd Arnold, used his imagination to make them up!
Seek Advice From Others
We went to dinner at our friend’s house and they have two boys, 4 and 7. On our way over, I asked Keener if we should ask the boys if they have ever been scared of monsters. We agreed that they may have some tips for us. “When I used to be scared, I would read a book,” one of the boys told Keener. Keener, that’s an interesting idea! I know you don’t always have books in your bed with you but that might be something that we could try. Reading books makes you feel happy so if you are feeling scared, reading a book would help make the scared feeling go away and a happy feeling enter your heart.
Talk About Being Safe
We have talked a lot about being safe. When Keener is feeling scared of thunderstorms, we discuss how we are inside and the rain, thunder, and lightning are outside. As long as we stay inside, we are safe from the rain and thunder. Grown ups always keep us safe and guess what? There is always a grown up around! Even when you are in your room, my number one job is to keep you safe! And if there is a babysitter here, they are here to keep you safe, as well.
Name The Situation
When Keener is going to bed, we list out the people in our house. Keener, the only people here right now are mommy, Keener, Gracie and Hank. That’s it! There is no one else in our house. And you know what? Hank is really good at keeping you safe. Remember, monsters are not real but even if they were, you know Hank would bark at them and they would be scared of him and run away!
Use Catchy Tunes From Songs/TV
There is a show called Little Baby Bum that both kids enjoy watching. It is essentially nursery rhyme music videos. There is one called, “There are no monsters that live in our home” and it’s a 2 minute 48 second video about kids who think they see monsters only to realize it was something else. It has a catchy chorus and I found myself singing it to Keener at bedtime. He would even request it! There are no monsters that live in our home, it’s only me and my family, that live in our home. There are no monsters that live here!” He couldn’t help but smile when I would sing. I would also use is as a teaching opportunity; just like the kids in the show thought they saw a monster, it wasn’t! They felt scared at first and then remembered there are no monsters and they put a smile on their faces.
Make A Sign
Keener and I made a sign together that said “NO Monsters Allowed in Keener’s Room. Only safe, loving, kind people are welcome.” Keener, even though monsters are not real, if they see the sign, they will read it and know they are not allowed to come in your room. They would think ‘Bummer! I’m a monster and the sign says NO monsters in Keener’s room.’ Then they would run away! The only people that will be in your room are loving, safe, and kind because that’s what the sign says!
I can’t pinpoint one of these strategies over another but the collective effort helped him overcome this fear. After 6 nights of crying and calling me back, he went to sleep feeling confident that there were no monsters in his room. He felt safe, protected, and loved which is exactly what he needed to peacefully fall asleep.