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Imagination is a wonderful thing, but sometimes it can lead children to think about scary things…especially around Halloween!
Maybe you thought they went to bed before you turned on a scary movie for grown-ups. Now they're terrified of Freddie, Jason, or Michael. (Oh my!)
Maybe they're convinced a sudden noise they heard is a monster rummaging through their closet to find some socks to eat.
No matter when it happens and what it is, it's typical for a child to be scared of something. Up to the age of 5, children are naturally afraid of things they don't understand and come up with imaginary scenarios as explanations. These tend to shift into reality-based fears as they age, but fears don't follow a strict timeline.
The most obvious sign is if they tell you that they are afraid of monsters. But there are less obvious signs that cause many parents frustration.
If your child shows any reluctance to go to bed, there could be an underlying fear keeping them from a peaceful night's sleep. Stalling before bedtime with bathroom breaks or requests for glasses of water can also be a sign.
If you know your kid got a glimpse of a scary movie on accident or saw something scary out in public (like your neighbor's award-winning animatronic Halloween decorations), it's a safe bet that they may have a monster phobia.
We spoke with Patricia Horner, LPC, RPT-S about what to do if your child is scared of monsters and beyond, asking parents' most common questions about how to tackle childhood fears.
While the days of your own fears of monsters and the dark may be gone and seen as “silly” (replaced with fears of credit scores and a coffee shortage), empathy is still needed to tackle your own kids' fears.
"[Kids'] fears are real, and it's important to acknowledge them," says Horner. “Everyone is afraid of something, even you!"
Start by telling them that everyone has something they are afraid of, and that being afraid isn't always a bad thing. It's meant to protect us! But sometimes, our minds are a little silly and find things to be scared about instead. It makes things up to explain something unknown to us.
Remember to give them a reassuring hug and then ask what might help them feel better. If they don't know what could help (and you don't, either), we have a few suggestions on the way!
You've discussed their fears and validated their feelings, but now what?
“Some kids do great with a bedtime ritual they help create,” says Horner. “Make suggestions on what to do. Should we look under the bed with a flashlight? Do you want a certain stuffed animal? You can even practice tucking them in during the day and at night.”
Children may feel better if they have a special song to sing before bed, or maybe chase the monsters away with a choreographed flashlight dance. Maybe they can make a tasty recipe to eat as a nighttime snack designed to banish monsters from their vicinity!
Sometimes it's not enough to tell your child to be brave. Demonstrating what bravery looks like can be immensely helpful in their monster-bashing journey.
“Yes, brave people are afriad, too,” says Horner. “You can help your child by having them acting out what brave people do, even when they're scared.”
Start by reminding them of their favorite fictional or real hero. What do they do in scary situations? While your child probably isn't braving big disasters or huge, scary creatures, ask them what their hero does when confronting something scary. Do they roar back at the monster? Tell them to back off? A child can even use a hero's catchphrase or stance to defend their “kingdom” (room) against hideous beasts beneath the bed!
Practice the stance, catchphrase, roar, or other bravery method together. Monsters won't stand a chance against a team like that!
If your kid loves creative play, they can use it to defeat their fears!
“Encourage your child to develop pieces of art around the fear, with them defeating and scaring off the monster,” says Horner. “They can depict it with dolls in a dollhouse or a drawing on paper.”
Don't feel limited by dolls and drawings. Painting, acting, and writing stories can also be helpful!
What better way to defeat monsters than by staking and knocking them over? Our Stacking Monsters Wooden Blocks can be a useful tool in overcoming monster fears. Even better? They can stand watch overnight and protect your child from really scary monsters.
Conquering fears doesn't have a true timeline, but there are signs to look out for that your child may need more help than what you're already trying out.
“Somatic complaints—think stomach aches, heart palpitations, panic attacks, or diarrhea—can signal a bigger problem that needs professional assistance,” says Horner.
Other verbal and physical cues can also help determine the severity of your child's anxiety.
“If they’re having long-lasting tantrums, refuse to go to school, refuse to play with friends, intense separation issues, or if they talk about their fears CONSTANTLY, it's time to get professional help,” says Horner.
We'd love to hear about your bedtime rituals and your recipes for monster-away spray! Tag us on social media (@hearthsong_toys) so we can share it with our favorite people…like you!