Children who are easily frightened are scared of more than the boogey man in the closet or the three-eyed monster under the bed.  These monsters are “projections” of emotions that children hold about themselves and the world--emotions that children are scared to feel.  These scary feelings are the fuel that creates the fantasy of scary monsters.  We all have the capacity for scary feelings such as anger, envy, shame and sadness.  Often, because these emotions are frightening, we push them deep down into ourselves.  These feelings become part of our internal “shadow”.  This is a place where suppressed emotions are stored away in an attempt to keep them “in the dark” and away from the light of awareness. The problem is that emotions don’t go away.  They may seem to disappear if we try hard enough to ignore them, but the truth is that they will creep out somehow…often in very creepy ways, and usually in ways that are more painful than if they had been acknowledged when they were first felt.  A child that seems to be afraid of their own shadow is actually afraid of their own internal shadow and of all of the ugly three-eyed emotional monsters that live there.  

In reality, the shadow can provide fuel for positivity in our lives.  Creative energy and passion come from the shadow.  In other words, not all monsters are scary or mean.  Looking into the darkness of the shadow can be scary for a child (and for adults), but in order to become an actualized and confident adult, a child needs to acknowledge the contents of their shadow, and caregivers need to assist a child in doing so.

There are things in this world that are scary for a reason because they are potentially dangerous (angry dogs and heavy freeway traffic for example) and a child should know how to recognize and avoid these potentially harmful situations.  In addition, the emotions around internalized fears need to be addressed directly and unavoided. Encouraging children to talk directly to their fears can be an extremely healthy emotional exercise.  Parents should encourage a dialogue with the monster in the closet.  Maybe introduce yourself as well…”Hello Mr. Monster, I am here with Billy and Susie.  This is their room, and we just wanted to introduce ourselves.”  This provides modeling that it’s good to confront your fears.  A child that speaks to the things that go bump in the night also speaks to their own scary feelings about becoming an independent and unique human being.  By doing so, the mean and scary monsters can become friendly furry ones...or at least the mean ones can know that Billy and Susie are in charge.  

The darkness of shadows can be scary.  We can’t see what is in front, back or around us.  Being “in the dark” implies the unknown, and the unknown is scary for both adults and children. Fantasies such as monsters is a way to try and make sense of the unknown.  To hold on to the security of a fantasy can sometimes feel safer then having no answer at all.  Caregivers need to provide empathic understanding of the challenges and uncertainties that a child faces as they get to know the world.  So, go to your own closets, your own shadows and introduce yourself to the monsters inside.  As a result, you and your child will be on your way to increased self-confidence and self-awareness.

PROBLEM: Scary feelings about ourselves are “projected” onto the world, making it a scary place to live.
SOLUTION: Acknowledging, expressing and working through the often scary emotions about oneself and the unpredictability of life.

Author's Bio: 

Matt Casper, M.A. MFT; Matt is a licensed Psychotherapist with a private practice in Los Angeles, California. He graduated cum laude from Duke University where he studied personality psychology, comparative religion and film. He received his master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from the California Graduate Institute of Professional Psychology and Psychoanalysis and has worked with a diverse population including individual adults, teens and children as well as with groups and couples. Matt has been involved with the Maple Counseling Center, a non-profit counseling clinic, as well as with the Julia-Ann Singer Therapeutic School where he worked with children who fall somewhere on the Autism spectrum, and has served as a supervisor for teenagers at TEEN LINE, a hotline and website that provides teen-to-teen outreach for teenagers facing emotional challenges. Matt is also the author of a series of 12 books in the "Emotes!" series which aims to help children identify, express and manage their emotions.