I told my daughter that monsters are real

Hannah is not one to be afraid of things. Where most of her friends found scenes from all of her favorite movies scary, and watched them through slightly parted fingers, she did not. The first time she saw Nemo, she didn’t flinch at the scary sharks. She thought they were funny. The tremendous growing Octopus Witch in The Little Mermaid was surprising but also not scary. In all of the movies she’s seen where someone has died, she doesn’t get sad or worried, just curious as to where they went. I don’t worry at Fireworks displays that she’ll be scared of the loud explosions or at the Circus that the clowns will petrify her.

For an extremely dramatic five year old who gets bent out of shape from just about anything… she has a high threshold for fear. Except for bees. Because mommy sets a bad example and is paralyzed with fear when one appears. And pretty much yells for everyone to run for cover when one buzzes by… so that doesn’t count. I’ve sometimes wondered what it says about her that so many normal fears of kids her age don’t apply to her. I decided that she just understands the difference between real and fictional and separates what she sees in movies and in books from that that exists in front of her.

So tonight, when she whispered to me as we lay in bed after her goodnight story that she has been thinking a lot about monsters in her room, all of a sudden wanting her closet door closed and her bedroom door open wider to allow more light to pour in, I pondered how to handle it. I knew that if I simply told her that Monsters aren’t real, that there isn’t anything to be afraid of because there’s no such thing, I knew she’d say, “How do YOU know?”. And really, how DO I know? For all I know, they only come out when I’m asleep. Maybe they only bother those who bother them (like bees, so I’ve heard). Maybe they turn themselves invisible when someone gets close. How DO I know?

So I decided to try a different strategy instead of blowing Monsters off as fictional characters. I took a deep breath, hoped I wasn’t about to make an insanely horrible mommy decision, and told her how EXCITED I’d be if in fact I ever got to meet one of those monsters that may live in our rooms. I told her that I BET monsters just get lonely and come out to find people known for giving fabulous, warm, loving hugs. I explained that very few people actually know that Monsters are VERY choosy about whose room they visit because they only are interested in seeing people that they hear have strong hugging arms. I went on to say (I was on a roll now) that monsters are so big because they’re incredible cuddlers. That they have lots of hair because they love to be petted. That they have big teeth because “I hear” their favorite food are nuts and their teeth help them open the hard shells.

She looked at me like I was NUTS.

“Would you really be happy mommy if a monster was in your room?”

“Yup!” I had to keep this up. “I’d be honored”.

I could tell she was processing all of this new information of which she was obviously skeptical. And then she lay back down on her pillow. Satisified. For the moment.

I gave her a kiss and whispered in her ear, “Good night. I hope you see a monster tonight. Give it a hug from me, if you do.” She smiled.

And I left her room. Still wondering if this was the wrong way to go on this. She seemed satisfied but I know her, and chances are in the morning, she’ll have a whole new line of questions for me on this. I’m certain she’ll have bore a hole through my story, finding a reason why it CAN’T be true.

But as I cleaned up the mess of toys in the family room and did the dishes from dinner tonight, I realized that what I told her wasn’t all wrong. We all DO have the monsters in our lives. The ones we fear and the ones we need to take head on. All of our monsters approach us for a reason. To teach us we can handle them. That we’re stronger than we think. They help us set our priorities and our goals.

When my monster shows its big hairy face I look right back at it and tell it I’m stronger than it is. It reminds me of all I’ve achieved and how far I’ve come since I first met it years ago. My monster is now my friend. My monster makes me look at Tim and my kids and and remember that they are more important than anything else I may face. My monster now pats me on the back and gives me a thumbs up.

Monsters are real. They very well may be hiding out in our closets, under our beds, in our cupboards or right out in the open for all to see. I think we’re all better off if we believe in them. And grab their big hairy, horny (like With Horns) bodies and hold them close instead of just pushing them away.

I hear they like that.

So what do you think? Would you have ever told your child what I did about monsters?

31 Comments

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31 responses to “I told my daughter that monsters are real

  1. Hilarious! Loved it! What a great perspective!

    I have told my kids that monsters are friendly… look at Cookie Monster and Grover and Elmo. They are all monsters and they aren’t scary. Maybe a bit annoying, but not a bit scary! :-)

    And you’re right – we should all hold our big, hairy, horny (ha!) monsters close. Look them in the eye instead of pushing them back under the bed. Great post!

  2. What a wonderful way to approach this Becca…You are right, we all have monsters, and most of the time, they are not content to stay in the closet and come out at night.

    I think that you taught Hannah a very valuable lesson about facing your fears head on, and with grace…

    Hope the monsters are giving out good hugs tonight! ;)

  3. I like your perspective. I also went a different route. I taught my son how we get rid of monsters (a dance, a special blanket, some WHOOSH-ing noises, I’m sure you’re familiar ;)) and we only had them for about three days. Because you are right. We all have monster. And we need to learn how to cope with them, not just how to pretend they aren’t there.

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  5. I love what you said! It encourages imagination and creativity and believing… and understanding that what other people might are scary might just be understood. It’s a good lesson to hammer in early. And even if she doesn’t believe you, I bet she’ll always remember you said it.

    Pretty cool mom, I think…

  6. We haven’t encountered monsters yet either. I’m not sure how I will handle it, but I love your perspective.
    I agree that we all need to learn to embrace our monsters, and face them head on… Instead of running away and hiding.
    My oldest has no fear too. Nothing scares him. He’s known for running away from us in the mall, and walking out the front door… My grandmother told him about the Sack Man that walks down the street with a sack, looking for children who have come out of their house without permission. And now we have a fear of the Sack Man… he also gets children who don’t hold their parents’ hands in the parking lot, or who refuse to go to sleep at night.

  7. This is a really interesting idea, because I have a son who is easily afraid.

    The big question is, how did she sleep?

    • Thanks Jana. I’m not sure that this approach will work with all kids but it worked with Hannah! She slept great although came into my room this morning with a list of questions about these “real monsters”. But she wasn’t nervous, more amused. And quizzing me about my knowledge about these said monsters.

  8. When I first started reading, I admit I was skeptical and then I got to your closing; what a perfect and honest and wonderful to explain fears to a child. I REALLY like it. It reminds me of the buddhist approach to fears. I thought you would like the excerpt because it is what you taught Hannah. Very, very nice post.
    From the Dhammapada 212-216 (a collection of sayings of the Buddha):
    “From what is dear, grief is born,
    from what is dear, fear is born.
    For someone freed from what is dear
    there is no grief
    — so why fear?

    From what is loved, grief is born,
    from what is loved, fear is born.
    For someone freed from what is loved,
    there is no grief
    — so why fear?

    From delight, grief is born,
    from delight, fear is born.
    For someone freed from delight
    there is no grief
    — so why fear?

    From sensuality, grief is born,
    from sensuality, fear is born.
    For someone freed from sensuality
    there is no grief
    — so why fear?

    From craving, grief is born,
    from craving, fear is born.
    For someone freed from craving
    there is no grief
    — so why fear?”

    • Thank you Joely. I was also skeptical when I started in this direction with Hannah but knowing how her brain works, I thought it would be the best approach. It seems to be working so far!
      And I love this excerpt… thank you for passing it along to me, it’s something I will save and share with her one day.

  9. Nicki

    Never thought of this slant on monsters but love it!!!

  10. This is the most fabulous approach I have heard anyone take. It’s all in persective, isn’t it? On my post in the morning there will be an award for you. Hope you’ll pop by to grab it!

    • Thank you! And yes, it IS all in the perspective… and we’re liking this one so far! Thank you so much for the award… I’ll be by tomorrow! Have a great weekend.

  11. Becca, you never cease to amaze me and push my thinking. I find this so clever and insightful and actually beautiful. I’m planning to steal it the next time this comes up, because it’s just the kind of approach I’d like to teach my kids. Embrace our fears so that we can conquer them. It’s a rich lesson, and not one I think people think about often.

    Also, have you guys watched Monsters Inc.? It plays right into this, so she might really appreciate it.

    • Christine, it seems to have been right for Hannah although I can’t promise it to work for all kids! As I expected, she had a list of questions ready for me this morning when she got up, most of which I had answers to so I was lucky! I do hope to be able to continue this train of thought when it comes to ALL sorts of monsters in her life… we’ll see if it continues to work.

      We watched Monsters Inc a long time ago. I think I need to pull it back out!

  12. Very interesting and unique take :) You’ll have to let us know how it pans out! I like the idea though, facing them and seeing them, instead of brushing off.

    • Hannah was definitely still talking about the monsters this morning but in a light hearted, interested, amused way. Not a scared way! So it’s a good start!

  13. I’m impressed — no idea how I would have handled the situation myself, but I’ll remember this for future reference.

    As it is, I still haven’t figured out what to do about my own monsters. I’m glad you’ve made friends with yours, so to speak.

  14. ck

    I think this was a really smart way to address monsters. My daughter is one who has nightmares all the time, so when it comes to things that scare her I’ve found that it’s better to do things the way you do. I don’t downplay it, I just let her speak. Sometimes that’s all she needs; to be listened to.

  15. I love this post! I don’t want to lie about monsters or fairies or unicorns. Bad things are there. And whimsy is essential.

    You should check out the kids book, Maggie and the Monster by Elizabeth Winthrop. A monster bugs Maggie and her mom encourages her to figure out what the monster needs. Turns out it’s looking for it’s mama monster.
    My 5 year old is easily scared, noises being the worst, but monsters are nit on the fear list. We say a silly phase to make them go away and I scare away the mean dragons, but not the nice ones.

  16. Bees are one of my monsters, too. I can’t help but run and hide when I see one. It’s like hearing “YMCA” on the radio and not singing along … I just can’t do it.

    Also, I love the monsters-are-our-friends lesson. I think we need bumper stickers made (or a blog button?). =>

  17. I am just visiting here from Suzicate’s wonderful blog. I think the way in which you chose to handle the thought of monsters with your daughter is just a wonderful way to do it and I love your analogies to the monsters i.e. fears we all have in our lives.

    My three year old daughter recently started worrying about monsters in her room at night and wanted lights left on and reassurances. So I bought her one of those night lights for babies that shines colored images of stars on the walls. Every night now when she goes to bed I shout “BOO” very loudly and then tell my daughter that any scary monsters out there have been frightened away and that as long as she can see the moon and stars at night they will not come back. So she sleeps happily.

    So this has worked for us, but you know as she gets a little older I think I am going to adopt your approach in explaining scary things in the night to her as you are right, we all have to face our monsters at some point in our lives.

  18. I adore what you told your daughter. Monsters that are lonely and just want a little snuggle or entertainment? The best monsters I know.

  19. !!!

    That’s a great attitude to pass on to Hannah, Becca. Although she might not now understand the metaphorical applications, the simple act of looking at something from a different angle will help her amazing little mind remain open in thousands of other ways.

    And I am swiping the idea for my own repertoire.

  20. I just like the “big, hairy, horny bodies” part!
    (I think I’m still a little scared of monsters myself).
    Let us know how the next week goes…

  21. My youngest child tells me that a wolf sleeps in the bed with her and licks her back. My oldest tells me that right before he falls asleep, he thinks about how zombies sure are ugly.

    So no monster talks yet simply because neither seem to be worried about them. But if they do suddenly develop a concern, I’ll be taking your route.

  22. I absolutely adore this post.
    And my very, very first reaction was that Hannah is not inherently afraid because she has a mama who gives her tremendous courage, strength and comfort. Really, truly, I think our kids inherit so much of this stuff from us. Like you said, she’s scared of bees and her mama’s scared of bees. Go figure, right?

    It’s like the boys sleeping in the tent last night. If Dan and I had been concerned at all, I’m sure Max would have been all dramatic and scaredy cat and weird. But nope. We were fine with it. He was fine with it.

    Now, I know that’s not ALWAYS the case. And a lot of it probably has to do with the kid’s natural personality, but c’mon, you KNOW they are linked, right?

    Oh, and the monsters? Brilliant, mama. Brilliant. Right down to comparing them to monsters that we all have in our lives, coming from the closets, from under the bed, or from our youth, in general.

  23. How great and creative of you. I love this. It’s all about perspective.

    Your daughter is lucky she has you as her mommy!

  24. Love this! Great job, Mom!

  25. I think that was a great response!! My kids have never asked about monsters…but they have asked about ghosts.

  26. LZ

    I wish we could say that – great way to ‘explain’ it to her. Our problem is that M would wake in the morning, very sad that she didn’t see a monster, and convinced it’s because she doesn’t give good hugs.

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