The mind of a toddler is a complicated thing. You never really know what will result from the input put in. A simple conversation about the dangers of bears when wandering in the woods without a parent, for example, can make a toddler suddenly believe there are monsters in the woods, and shortly after, monsters everywhere else. At least that's what happened with my toddler. First, he harmlessly would edge the woods by our house, swiping his foam sword back and forth. He was "killing monsters." Later, there were monsters on the stairs. Monsters lived in mom's hair. The monsters were everywhere. Worse, he alternated between being my tiny, fearless Viking boy with sword in hand, and a scared toddler crying in the dark. I am glad my son, like many children his age, has a vivid imagination, but what do you do when your child's imagination begins creating bad guys?
Finding the inspiration:
The first thing I began doing, was trying to help my toddler understand the difference between real, and imaginary. It is after all, this inability that creates problems with "monsters" to begin with, provided they aren't real. You can start by asking your toddler about his/her monsters, and be sure to listen carefully. You'll find out a few things including the inspiration for the belief, and rule out the possibility that your child's monster isn't entirely in their imagination. For example, our stair monster is actually a sound the heater makes when running. Once you find the source of the fear, it's easier to combat it. You can show your toddler the reality of their fantasy, while still encourage imaginary play in less frightening outlets.
Using imaginary weapons:
I didn't want to stamp out that creative spark my child has. I like that he lives in a world where his mind creates a limitless playscape. While I made sure to show him the truth of his fears, I also made sure he knew it was OK to play pretend. I taught him that he was in control of his stories. If there were monsters, he could create weapons to slay them. If there were bad guys, he could create good guys, too. I would also play with him, rather than simply protect or comfort him.
Create safe zones:
Smart or not, my son is still only 2 years old. Sometimes his fears still get the best of him. I decided to make monster safe zones. Before bed, I let him walk with me as we lock each door and window, so the monsters can't get in. Then we lock the child gate on the stairs that keep any that do get in downstairs. This helps him feel safe and secure, no matter where his imagination takes him.
Make monsters friends:
Finally, I've tried to teach him not all monsters are bad. The bears, for instance, that started the whole thing aren't bad, they're just animals. If he went into the woods alone, as he knows better than to do, he could get eaten, but the bear wasn't a bad guy that would seek him out. We used Elmo, one of his favorite characters as a starting point. Elmo is a monster, but my son considers him a friend. My toddler still spends his days slaying monsters, but some of them are his friends, and he can make them go away whenever he likes.
What was your child's first imaginary fear?
You may also enjoy: