The Origin of the Monster Under the Bed
You’re alone in your room, it’s dark but not completely. The moonlight outside seeps through the gap in your curtains illuminating but not quite enough, shadows of innocuous objects suddenly take on a sinister form, and did that one just move?! Being in the dark, alone, on a quiet night is bad enough, but then there’s more.
The old adage is not to let one foot escape from under your covers, don’t let it dangle over the side of the bed, and definitely don’t let the blankets touch the ground. Why? It’s late a night, you need to go to the bathroom. It’s dark. You make a game plan, you are going to get up, put your feet as far away from the bed as possible before putting them on the floor, and then make a mad dash to the bedroom door. Why? People all over the world, and in many cultures have been afraid of monsters under the bed. Where these fears came from and why can be as varied as families themselves. Many people were told about the monster under the bed by their own parents in an attempt to keep them in bed for the whole night. Still, others just have a foreboding feeling in the dark, a fear of the unknown and a big imagination can often be a monster creating a combination.
Fear of the unknown is real, and the spookiest places in the house are usually the least familiar. Basements, attics, closets at night, these things can inspire creepy feelings in all of us. However, the space under the bed can be the most terrifying of all. It’s always there, you never visit, it’s dark, you can’t even reliably check it without putting yourself in a situation where you’re laying on the floor which precludes a quick escape. Add to that the very real deep feelings of “something” being under there? It’s a horrifying thought.
While we know that monsters under the bed aren’t real those anxieties can crop up even as adults. Being careful not to pass this down to your child is an admirable goal, but don’t expect your own monster hygiene to prevent the problem entirely.
The monster under the bed is a cultural meme, we all know about it. It’s in our books, movies, television shows, myths, legends, and culture. While you may not tell your child about it, it doesn’t really mean they will avoid all knowledge of it.
What do you do if your child thinks there’s an actual monster under the bed?
React wisely. Don’t linger on the idea, definitely, don’t indulge in things like monster spray that can validate the idea of a real actual monster. Your goal should be to help your child learn that monsters aren’t real. By going through a charade of spraying a potion to keep them away you’re just solidifying the fear. While little ones may not catch on quickly or even believe you that monsters aren’t real, it is still important to share this message. Be careful though not to dismiss or minimize their feelings of fear which are real. Making fun of them is a quick way to damage your relationship.
Even though monster spray isn’t a great idea, that doesn’t mean you can’t provide some comforting scaffolding for your child. You can still use lavender in water to spray around the room, but instead of calling it “monster spray” just say what it really is, a relaxing elixir that can make it easier to sleep.
Be on the lookout for media and even extended family that are stoking the fear fire. It can be uncomfortable to discuss this with in-laws or your parents but it’s important for them to realize that toddlers and young children still don’t have a great grasp of the break between fantasy and reality and they need their sleep.
Getting to the root of the problem
Older children may still have lingering thoughts and practices related to a mythical monster under the bed, but in reality, they probably don’t actually believe it. They are likely bothered by something else that they either can’t pin or don’t want to discuss. Again, make sure you don’t make a big deal out of the whole thing by feeding feelings of insecurity or setting up a reliable routine of sleep avoidance by comforting for too long. The goal should always be to affirm feelings, provide a comfortable solution, and then quickly back to bed.
Fears in older children are often nebulous and difficult to identify even for the child themselves. While they may say it’s a monster under the bed, the anxieties could be about something completely different like trouble at school, or fears about new experiences. It’s important to keep a dialog open during the day to head off night-time struggles. Keep an ear out for things that might be bothering your child and discuss them far in advance of bedtime, letting your child vent and discuss possible solutions and coping skills.
For all children having a regular bedtime routine can be comforting and help them process and set aside anxieties before bed. Bedtime routines are often touted as better for children because it sets reasonable expectations at the end of the day, and helps their body know it is time to begin winding down for sleep, but an often overlooked benefit is the comfort of the known. Most fears in children, including especially fears of the dark and of monsters under the bed or in the closet, are related to being scared of the unknown. Fighting that feeling with the mundane is not only a winning strategy, but it is also actually borderline genius. The out of the ordinary can rarely happen if your routine is solid.
Whatever the cause of the fear of the monsters under the bed it is likely a passing feature in the sense of a real literal fear, but a lifelong struggle in the sense of a deep brain foreboding at night. Learning to cope with these feelings early is a definite part of growing up, and as a parent, you are the one who can lead the way. Use your power wisely and you will build a trusting relationship with your child.