“People sometimes think that because children fear things that are strange or unreasonable (at least to our adult reason) their fears are less intense and less important. But fear is based on perception, not reality. It is worse for children if adults ridicule their fears. They have to cope with the fear and the ridicule.” Joseph O’Connor
“The most important thing to remember is that for children, fears are very real, just as they are for adults. The process of normalizing fears begins with acknowledging them, listening carefully and then working with the child to reframe the fear into an articulated, manageable scenario.” Jennifer Syrkiewicz
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.” Marie Curie
Children have a fantastic imagination. They aren’t constrained by what is possible as we are and they can easily morph things they’ve seen in a book into living breathing creatures in their room. The most important thing is to acknowledge the fear. However tired you are or however many times your child has done this, you should still accept that for him there really are monsters under the bed, in the wardrobe, behind the door or wherever his are. Suggesting that he’s imagining them just makes him feel stupid and this isn’t helpful long term. Telling him not to cry or be a bay also doesn’t help because he’s not doing this intentionally. It may also predispose him to keep other fears to himself when he gets older.
Your child will need a coping strategy because you won’t always be around when he has these fears. They could occur at a sleepover or away at camp, staying with grandparents or family friends. Although now the fear is monsters, later on in life they may fear other things and having a strategy to overcome fear will be a resourceful skill to have whether it is monsters now or exams later on.
The first thing is to find the trigger. What happens just before the monster appears? We’re not talking here about the trigger that might be what prompted them to feel a bit sensitive in the first place but what prompted the fear response that is their worry now. Was it when you turned the light off or did their dressing gown look like a monster, did they think they saw something under the bed? Let’s call that ‘the trigger’.
Ask them what they’d like to see instead of the monster. Ask them to imagine something nice they’d like to see or hear. Can they picture what they’d like to see instead? Get them to draw a picture of it or describe it to you, give it a name. Perhaps it could be you they’d like to see instead or their favourite TV character, a favourite teddy bear? Once they’ve decided what it is they’d like instead, give them an imaginary zapper or remote control, magic wand (use whatever word will suit the situation and their age and imagination) and say, “Now when you next see your monster I want you to point your remote control at them and press it so you change the picture to the one you want to see. When you press it I want you to say SWISH and then the monster will change into what you have decided you want instead.” You can practice this a few times with them. If they have the imagination to see monsters they can certainly press an imaginary remote control and change the monster into a superhero or favourite toy or animal.
What are his monsters like?
If your child is quite visual, ask him to draw his monster. Encourage him to use coloured pencils and let him draw all the detail. This will work even if your child seems too young to draw, it still gives him an outlet for his imagination.
If your child is auditory and likes talking, ask him to describe his monster. What does his monster look like, sound like, what does he do and does he talk to him?
For the kinaesthetic child who is more action-packed ask what does his monster like to do, what is he doing now, where has he been, how does he feel. Is he warm enough?
Be curious, not only do these talks help dispel their fears of the monster directly but it is also an opportunity for you to pick up on any other fears that he may have. As children start to describe their monster it becomes less scary and the fact that they can see that you aren’t scared by it will reassure them.Giving the monster a name helps too, after all, how scary can a monster be when it has a name? A very imaginative child may let you talk to his monster in which case you can ask it very sweetly to go back home and let your child get some sleep.
Be clear though that this monster is in his imagination even though it seems very real to them. You could tell your child that lots of children have these fears and imaginary monsters, perhaps you did when you were young.
Pre-school children often have monster dreams and can wake up scared at night. Some older children can go through anxious periods when they do the same. Acknowledge that their fear is real but that the monsters are in their imagination because otherwise they’d see them out and about in the supermarket or at school. Establishing a calm and consistent bedtime routine helps keep them calm as does making sure they don’t watch scary programmes or read scary books before bedtime. Leave the door slightly open and a light on. If they still have a monster moment talk to them about their monster and use the SWISH or submodalities to get rid of it.
This is an extract from 'Secrets of the NLP Masters published by Hodder. You can buy it on Amazon or any bookshop or get your signed copy from me.
If you'd like to arrange a consultation over Skype to discuss your child's fears you can do this here.