“The thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn’t real. I know that, and I also know that if I’m careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle” – Stephen King, Night Shift.
Is your child afraid of the dark? Are you? I certainly was.
The difference between my childhood and adulthood is that back then, I wasn’t quite sure why I felt the creepy crawlies the way I did and I sure as heck didn’t know how to make them go away.
Over the years, I have worked with a lot of families whose children suffer from unexplained fears. I always inform the adults that it doesn’t matter in the least whether their child believes something is actually in the room, creeping in the closet, hiding under the bed, or lurking outside the window or whether it is the product of a purely hyperactive imagination. The bottom line is — something is causing fear, so we tackle that.
1. Take Charge: Understand that, no matter what, we are the ones in charge. No ‘phantom idea or presence’ is as powerful as the human in the body. As long as you and your child are aware of that fact and can connect to your power, no one and nothing can top it.
So whenever fear raises its head, the first thing to do is remind yourself and your child that YOU ARE IN CHARGE. YOU ARE IN CONTROL. Nothing and no one gets to take over or be in charge of you without your permission. So be sure to explain to your fear filled child, “Did you know that you are the one with the power? You are always in charge, no matter what.”
2. Get It Out In The Open: Find a room in the house that doesn’t frighten your child. At this point, ask lightly about whether he or she is seeing, hearing, or feeling things in the night, as if that is a totally normal thing to do. Then ask, “What is that like for you?” and encourage your child to express whatever he or she perceives is happening, fears, emotions, etc. This is a good time to be really quiet and just let your child talk without interrupting, comforting, or interjecting what you think, feel, or know. Listen with empathy and compassion and try not to judge anything he or she might say.
When your child is finished (and do keep asking gently, “Is there anything else?”) you can absolutely acknowledge what’s been said. “Wow, that must be a little scary for you” or “I am so glad you are sharing with me what you are feeling” or “I had no idea, I am so glad we are talking about this now.” Say whatever feels appropriate and offers validation.
3. Creating A Safe Space: Transform your home into a safe haven. All nooks and crannies of one’s home should bring a feeling of comfort, support and lightness. Any spot in the house that causes the heart to beat faster for no apparent reason is what needs attention. Go together to these spaces and let your child speak any of the following out loud:
“Only love is allowed in this house.”
“This is a safe home.”
“Anything that is not for our highest good is not welcome here anymore.”
“I am in control here, no one else is allowed to scare me.”
“I create this circle of safety around my home.”
“This is my family’s home. Only we decide who is allowed here and who is not.”
This might be all your child needs and anything that was bothering him or her could be gone. Many children just need to be heard and to feel that they have taken charge to rid whatever was bothering them. The knowledge that they have power is often enough to give them sweet dreams again.
Michelle Cohen is a multi-faceted producer (Schoolhouse Rock Live!), creative, and author whose work has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, MTV, NPR, and in People, Entertainment Weekly, and the Washington Post. Her latest book “Actually, There Is Something Under the Bed: A Parent’s Guide to Empowering their Child in the Dark” is available at www.amazon.com. Dedicated to empowerment, Michelle focuses on ways to help the human spirit laugh, sing and soar. For more info: www.michellecohenprojects.com