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Just about every child will experience a visit from that infamous closet monster that seems to lurk in children’s rooms. Some kids may experience the occasional bedtime fright and then get over it. Others may drive you nuts night after night with scares over different goons and goblins.

What causes a child’s fear of imaginary monsters?

Preschoolers have a difficult time separating reality from fantasy. So when you put them alone in a dark room where they can’t see what’s going on around them, this anxiety can give way to imagined fears.

A child’s fear of monsters will often arise as they transition from their crib to a bed, or from sleeping with parents or siblings to sleeping in their own room. They may also surface after moving to a new house. These changes provoke anxiety and a fear of the unfamiliar, which can translate into a visit from that imaginary monster under the bed.

Dealing with a child’s fear of monsters

  1. Using fake “monster spray” or “monster dust” to ward off imaginary monsters may seem clever in the moment, but it’s usually not the best strategy, because it plays along with a child’s fears. After all, if you need monster potion to keep them away, then the monsters must be real.
  1. Don’t diminish the child’s emotions by saying their fears are silly or getting angry and upset. Their fear may seem silly to you, but it is very real to your child.
  1. Avoid the urge to let a child come sleep with you, unless you want them to be sleeping with you every night. This is a great way to turn an occasional closet monster into an everyday visitor.

Helping a child overcome their fear of monsters

  1. Start by empathizing and reasoning with them, though don’t be upset if your attempts at reassurance fail to work. Say something like: “I can see that you’re really scared. I remember when I was your age, I used to imagine such things might be out there too. When it’s dark and you can’t see as well, your mind tends to imagine all sorts of scary things. But I promise you there’s no such thing as monsters. The only creatures in this house are those that love you. And because I love you so much, I would be pretty upset about a monster trying to get you. The reason I’m NOT concerned is that I am absolutely, positively sure there’s nothing here that can get you. Because if there was, I’d wrangle that monster and throw him out the door on his booty.” Through such a response, you’re combating a child’s irrational fears without belittling them.
  1. Have them cope by using their imagination to turn a scary monster into a funny monster or pretend they are ‘taming’ their monster. Have them think of the movie How to Train Your Dragon. Without pretending these thoughts are real, you’re giving them a way to alter the story. A fun variation of this is to sit down with your child during the day and create a monster portrait. Have them tell you what their monster looks like, as if you were doing a police sketch, and then make him funny looking with a silly face while cracking jokes about this imaginary monster.
  1. If it’s a recurring fear, point out that whatever they might be afraid of didn’t get them the night before, or the night before that. So without insinuating that monsters are real, argue that it’s quite obvious any monsters they fear might be out there aren’t out to get them. If there was anything in the house inclined to get them, they’d had been gotten a long time ago.
  1. Fear about bedtime monsters are often closely related to fears of the dark. So if these monster in the closet episodes are persistent, you should consider some of the activities listed in our page on fear of the dark to help kids become more comfortable when the lights go out.

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