Dear Kid Whisperer,
My four-year-old insists that there is a monster under her bed. Her mother and I have talked with her about this. We have even gotten under the bed with a flashlight to check for monsters and show her that there aren’t any, but she just cries and says that she is scared. We go through this every night. Usually, it ends with my daughter sleeping in bed with us. My wife and I are not getting enough sleep and it’s starting to affect our relationship. In the last month of this I have started to think that we are going about this the wrong way. - Bill, Columbus, Ohio
Gee, Bill. Do you think?
Let’s review the conclusion that you just came to, both for clarity and emphasis. You expressed the following:
“Because my daughter has made claims that there are mythological creatures living under her mattress, my wife and I are having marital problems.”
OK, let’s let that sink in for a moment.
Alright. Now, I’d like to propose the idea that somewhere between your daughter exhibiting a normal four-year-old behavior and you and your wife getting closer to a divorce that yes, perhaps you have made some mistakes. Checking for monsters makes you and your wife look like lunatics, for starters (there are no monsters under the bed). There is a very good chance that your daughter does not actually think that there are monsters down there, and she is just trying to get attention, perhaps as a means of getting to sleep in the bed with you.
I understand that this may have started from a good place. You don’t want your daughter to be sad. That’s fine.
However, what you are doing is not only hurting your marriage, it is hurting your daughter. Just because your daughter appears to be scared or sad doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong. Life is full of scary things. When you are four, it’s monsters under the bed. When you’re eight, it’s peeing in the bed at a sleepover. At 18, it’s acne the day before prom, at 40, it’s getting audited, and at 80, it’s dying. The fears never stop getting bigger and more real.
There will always be scary stuff. Your job as a parent is not to protect your kid against age-appropriate fears. Your job is to prepare your kid to successfully deal not only with today’s fear, but to let her know that you believe in her strength as a powerful young person and that you know that she can deal with tomorrow’s fears as well. Here’s how I would do it with your kid after reading a story:
Kid: There are monsters under my bed and I am scared and can I sleep with you and mommy?
Kid Whisperer: Oh, honey. No. While there are monsters like sperm whales and giant squid and alligators and sharks, none of them live under your bed, and if you take a second to think about it, I think you know that.
Kid: Can you check under my bed to make sure?
Kid Whisperer: Oh, honey. No.
Kid: Why not?!?! I’m only four and need constant reassurance.
Kid Whisperer: Oh, honey. I don’t argue. I know you are strong, and I know you can make it through this. Would you like the light to be on or off?
Kid: On, so I can see the Deadly Tiger Demons.
Kid Whisperer: On it is.
Kid: I am only four! BWAAAAAAH!
Kid Whisperer: Oh, honey. Goodnight. I love you. I will see you in the morning.
Kid Whisperer gives Kid a big hug and kiss and closes the door as Kid continues to cry.
If Kid follows me to my room, I pick her up, only saying, “Oh, honey” and put her back in her room. By allowing Kid to deal with her own fears, we give the message that we believe in her strength and self-reliance while taking great care of ourselves and our marriage.
Scott Ervin, M.Ed, is a former teacher and principal. He is the author of “The Classroom Behavior Manual: How to Build Relationships, Share Control, and Teach Positive Behaviors.”, published by ASCD He is a behavioral consultant and proud Daytonian. More information can be found at www.behavioralleadership.com.