Imagination Helps Tame Young Kids' Fears
Researchers Have Tips for Easing Your Child's Fear of Monsters
WebMD News Archive
Coping With Fears continued...
But in the imaginary situations, she found differences in responses based on
age. ''Usually in the imaginary situation what the younger kids suggest is,
'Let's pretend the monster is really nice or friendly' or 'Let's take a sword
and attack a monster.'"
The older kids, especially those who were 7, were much more likely to do a
reality check. "They would say, 'Let's remind ourselves that monsters are not
real,''' Sayfan tells WebMD. Or: ''This dragon can't be there, there are no
dragons in the world."
The 4-year-olds who turned to fantasy to cope actually knew the monster
wasn't real, too, Sayfan says. But staying in the imaginary world to cope is
easier for them, she says, "because it's harder for them to shift their
attention. Their attention is in the imaginary world and they are absorbed in
it. With older kids, we know they are better at shifting attention and
inhibiting bad thoughts.
The take-home point is clear, say Sayfan and her co-researcher, Kristin
Hansen Lagattuta, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at University of
California, Davis. "Stay within that pretense [of the imaginary world],
and make it where the child feels more powerful," Lagattuta says.
''Look at their understanding of how they make themselves feel less afraid,"
You can always talk about reality in the morning, Sayfan says. In the midst
of the monster experience, Sayfan says, you might say to your child: "Let's
build a wall around us and pretend the monster can't get to us."
In the morning, she says, when the child's attention has shifted out of the
imaginary world, you can remind him or her: "You know monsters don't really
Two other child development experts who reviewed the study for WebMD say the
findings and advice make sense. ''I like the conclusion," says Marjorie Taylor,
PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, Eugene, and author of
Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them.
''For the child, the fear is there and it's hard to deal with it once it is
there," she says. Staying in the imaginary world "helps them with the
situation," she finds. ''When [fear] has gotten out of hand and is bothering
them and scaring them, I stick with them,'' she says. For instance, she says,
she will ask: "Is the monster scaring you? Maybe he is a baby monster and
scared of the dark."