Power of imagination beats imaginary monster


June 30, 1996|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Six months ago my 7-year-old son watched a movie about werewolves and had a dream that the wolf was in his room. He still thinks the wolf is in his room, and during the night he comes and gets in bed with us. How can we help him get over this?

Robert Johnson Jr.

Tallmadge, Ohio.

In this case, the cause of the problem can also be part of the solution.

The real culprit is a normal, active imagination coupled with the sheer fact of how a 7-year-old views the world. Just as the child believes the werewolf is real, he will also believe in an imaginary solution.

"At this age, it's difficult for children to distinguish dreams from reality," says Deborah J. Smith, an early-childhood development professor at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City.

"The child thinks that if it's in my head, it's real, and it's in my room, and you're going to have a hard time talking me out of it," says Smith.

Lots of parents who called Child Life have solved this problem by using a little imagination of their own.

"Take a shoe box and have the child draw a picture of whatever it is that scares them," advises Sally McDaniel, a mother from Santa Rosa, Calif.

"Then they put the pictures in the box and put the cover on and tape the box shut so that the bad guys can't get out. Then let the child put the monster box in the trash can or wherever they want."

Sharon Gradle of Berwin, Ill., suggests giving the room a thorough squirt of "werewolf spray" -- which is really colored water or air freshener with a made-up no-monsters label.

Parent Deannie Adams of Gig Harbor, Wash., said firm rules that no monsters were allowed in the house worked for her son.

"Young children like repetition," Adams says. "Whenever the question comes up, go back over the rules that no monsters are allowed in the house."

Several other parents had good luck pretending to chase the monster away.

"One night I opened the closet door and yelled at the monsters and told them to go home, that it was dark and their mothers were looking for them," says Rita Lovely of Olympia, Wash. "I told her to yell at the monsters, too. That gave this child the courage to frighten off something that she was afraid of."

The experts say this type of coping strategy can give children a sense of power that helps them conquer their fear.

Parents can counteract this image of werewolves in the daytime, too, says Stephen W. Garber, co-author of "Monsters Under the Bed and Other Childhood Fears" (Villard, $20, $26 Canada).

Have the child draw smaller and smaller pictures of the monster until it is small enough to stomp out or blast with a secret ray gun, Garber suggests. At night, when the child is afraid, remind him that he has already gotten rid of the monster.

If the child comes to your bed, gently lead the child back to his own bed, Garber says.

"The fear actually gets reinforced by coming into bed with Mom and Dad," he says.

Also be very cautious about what movies and cartoons the child sees.

"If kids are sensitive to this type of thing, even previews of scary movies can be enough to keep the fear going," Garber says.

Don't be surprised if it takes a week or longer for the fear to vanish, parents and experts say.

"Your little boy needs time and love to heal from his fear," says Lisa Poggi of Lombard, Ill. "No one can say how long it will take, but think of it as any physical injury or illness and give it the same proper time to heal."

Pub Date: 6/30/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.