Virtually, everyone can remember a time in their childhood when they were scared of monsters, or ghosts, or vampires, or anything that goes thump in the night.
And if you have children, then you probably have dealt with them going through a similar fear that resulted in them crying and begging to be rescued from whatever evil lurks in the dark.
Most parents have two main inclinations when dealing with this irrational fear in children – they either make their child face their fears and cry it out or they coddle them until the fear subsides.
Now, both techniques have pros and cons, so this article isn’t meant to suggest which way is the better method. However, getting to the root of the fear might help guide your parenting approach when it comes to “monsters under the bed.”
My son’s father and I never co-slept with our son – even as a baby. For the most part, our kid was a pretty good sleeper until he turned four. As soon as he reached this age, it was like a switch flipped in him and he was suddenly scared to death of being alone – particularly at night. We attempted every tactic to try and appease this nightly tantrum but nothing seemed to work except when his father or I would relent and sleep with him.
Fast forward six months, and my son’s anxiety hadn’t diminished. If anything, it grew worse. He wanted us by his side day in and day out. Again, this was seemingly out of nowhere, as we have always tried to raise our kid to be independent and to self-soothe when necessary. But nights kept getting worse, flooding us with dread that another nightly battle was just around the corner.
So, when we finally realized we were not equipped to handle this impending fear that our son was battling, we pulled our last card and took him to a childhood therapist.
Here’s what we learned and I hope that if your child is going through a similar phase, this can help guide you, too.
My son’s fear had nothing to do with monsters or goblins or spooky things hiding in his closet. These were just tangible things he could identify to express his anxiety. He knew that if he could pin point a real fear, either his dad or I would come in and talk him through it or sleep with him.
What was REALLY causing his anxiety was that his father and I had separated and being forced to go from one house to the next was non-routine, uncharted territory for him. As a result, he grew separation anxiety. However, he was far too young to verbalize what was really bothering him. So monsters became his way of expressing anxiety and our presence in these scary times provided relief.
My point? If you have a child that is having difficulty coping with a fear, try to pinpoint what’s at the root of that fear. Rarely, it’s what they tell you because most kids aren’t equipped to emotionally express themselves or pinpoint triggers.
Anxiety is very common with children and it can lead to developmental impairments like sleeping, learning, and emotionally thriving. If you are unable to really hone in on what’s going on with your child, I encourage you to see a child specialist to not only pin point the underlying issues but teach you as a parent tools to help your child cope with that anxiety.
My son isn’t “cured” and it will take awhile for him to get comfortable with the idea of his dad and me not being together. But at least now we know that the monsters are just manifestations of a deeper problem and we can now focus on mending the real trauma.