So my 3 year old has an absolutely wonderfully vivid imagination. I love it. I just wish we could turn it off at bedtime! Just within the past month he has decided there are monsters. (??!!??) I have no idea where he got this from. I keep saying the only monsters I know of are silly monsters like Elmo and Grover. That's the only thing we have ever referred to as monsters and he doesn't go to anyone else's house without us present and his occasional babysitter doesn't even watch TV! He also decided that these things can smell him. And during his last cold, he decided that doggies were coming to eat his nose! HELP! The last 3 days have gone well..... he's at least willing to sleep in his big bed in his room. Sometimes we have sucummbed to put his 'little bed' out in the hall (the crib mattress)... I don't mind him crawling into bed with me or both of us on nights my husband is at home, but I like bedtime for myself so I can read and have my own bedtime routine so letting him sleep in my bed at his bedtime is out.
How do you handle your children's bedtime fears?
Just before 2 1/2 my son became concerned about the big bad wolf, often asking if the wolf was in our dining room. I got a lot of advice to "chase the wolf out" or to use some magic "wolf spray" to rid our house of the wolf. A lot of people have told me that such methods worked for them, but I felt like this would only exacerbate the problem for us because it would confirm for my son that the wolf was real. When he would say, "What's that noise? I think it's the wolf. Turn the light on." I think he was really asking, "Is the wolf real?" He just didn't have the words to say this directly are the time.
For a week or two we continually talked about the difference between "real" and "pretend" (e.g. naming things that were real and things that were pretend). We talked about real vs. pretend when we read books, went to the zoo, etc. Our mantra became "the wolf is pretend." Soon DS picked it up and started saying it too. At times he would hear something, like maybe the air ducts popping, and would say, "What's that!?" Before I could answer he would say, "Oh! The wolf is pretend!" He still gets nervous about the wolf, and various other things, but understanding that these things are pretend has really given him a tool to comfort himself.
My son is 2 1/2 and monsters have recently appeared in our lives, too. A few things combined seem to be working for him...
1. Mom-Mom's the boss of the house and my rule is, nothing can come into our house and scare James. If James thinks he sees a monster and it scares him, tell the monster to leave, this is our house, not the monster's house. (We later discussed nice monsters like Elmo, Cookie Monster, etc, and he decided that if he sees a monster and it's nice, it can stay.)
2. James thought the monster lived downstairs, and would come upstairs and eat him in the dark. When he thought he heard the monsters coming, I'd hold him, or take him by the hand, and bring him downstairs (we have an open floor plan with a night light on either end, so there's some visibility downstairs) and ask him to show me where the monster was. I'd act all excited, like I couldn't wait to see the monster. He'd look around, and then look at me with complete confusion on his face and tell me he couldn't find the monster. If he had seen a monster, I would have turned on the light so he could see what it was a shadow or formation of.
3. During the day, we talked about the monsters. I'd ask where they are, when we were downstairs and it was light out, and he thought about it, and thought they were probably outside until dark, so we made sure we checked to see if the doors and windows were closed, so they "can't come in unless we let them in".
4. James has a picture of Jesus on his wall. He understands that Jesus is with him always and he can always ask Jesus about help if he's scared. (I understand this might not work with all families.)
5. We use "Monster Spray" before bedtime. It's just air freshener or watered down perfume, and he can spray it himself if he gets scared in the middle of the night.
6. We also (by coincidence) recently got a cat. My future stepdaughter told my son that cats and dogs scare monsters away, and I never would have planned it this way, but my son takes great comfort in the fact that our cat is "patrolling" the house while he sleeps and he's not so scared of monsters anymore, so this might have been what worked best for my son.
Thank you for the ideas. We are talking more using the word pretend... this seems to help. I don't want to use spray or anything as I'm afraid that will send a double message like theres a need for the spray. But I like the idea of saying 'show me' because obviously he won't be able to... Things are getting better. Thanks!