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Creatures Under The Bed: Toddler fears about imaginary things and ways to help

Spend just a few minutes playing with a toddler and it becomes clear that their imaginations are capable of taking them to wonderful places and on amazing adventures.

The downside to their busy brains? They don’t come with an “off” switch. At around age 3, the fear of imaginary creatures (such as monsters or shadows in the dark) comes into full effect. The good news is that your child will eventually grow out of this phase. In the meantime, there are strategies you can try to help your child put their fears to rest.

Understanding Fear

It’s hard to see our children distressed, but take comfort in the fact that fear of imaginary monsters is a normal developmental step in childhood. In most cases, fear functions to keep us safe. Of course, at this age, it is the parents’ job to keep them safe. Toddlers and young children can set aside reality and pretend, like when they pretend a block is a car. They know it is a block, but can ignore that, and the car becomes very “real.” In the same way, monsters can become “real.” Our task as parents is to help our children calm down so they can access their thinking brain and put those very real monsters back in their imaginary place.

You may need to play detective with your toddler to uncover what they are afraid of, especially if they are still developing their language skills. You may start to notice some signs and physical symptoms to indicate they are afraid of something:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Breathing quickly
  • Sweating and shaking
  • Crying when the lights go out
  • Refusing to go to bed
  • Night wakings

If your child wakes in the middle of the night claiming there is a monster under the bed, don’t shrug it off—while their fears may sound silly to you, they are very real to your child. For more tips, visit lanekids.org.

This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).  Parenting Now is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at info@parentingnow.org.

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