As someone who tries to maintain a reasoned approach to paranormal research I often get asked by people how they should deal with children who are afraid of ghosts and monsters. Last Halloween I did a free talk in my local library for children called “How To Be A Ghost Buster” and I taught them how to spot fake ghost photos and more. The Question & Answer section was dominated by questions like ‘Why does my bedroom window rattle?”, “I hear footsteps outside my door when everyone is asleep, what is it?”, “Mummy says ghosts aren’t real but my bedroom goes very cold and I feel scared” and more. There was real fear in these questions and I genuinely struggled to reassure those children, realising that there is not one good answer on how to deal with this.
I used to be like those children. I used to hear footsteps outside of my bedroom door and I didn’t feel safe sleeping in my own bed because I was convinced there were ghosts in the house. One night a fox made a howling noise in our garden and I ran downstairs screaming that a wolf was coming through the window. Everything was out to get me, including Mothman, which is why I didn’t look out of windows after sunset for fear of seeing red eyes looking back at me.
All of this stopped when the Fairy Queen wrote a letter:
‘Dear ghosts, monsters & bad guys,
I command you all to leave Hayley alone in her bedroom, when she sleeps, and during the whole night. If you come into this room there will be consequences.
The Fairy Queen’
My mum was desperate at that point but it did work. I can remember pinning the letter to the edge of a shelf in my bedroom filled with the sense that everything was okay now. Just as the Fairy Queen supplied my mum with Magic Cream to heal our cuts and grazes (which I later discovered was actually antiseptic cream) she had now provided us with protection from all of the things I feared.
Part of me feels as though we shouldn’t lie to children about these things for fear of reinforcing the idea that monsters and ghosts are real. When I see people sharing photos of “Monster Spray” I worry that such techniques reinforce the idea that there are monsters to deter, but then I figure that although I did grow up believing in ghosts it wasn’t because the Fairy Queen letter convinced me they were real, I had already made that decision before the creation of the letter. The letter simply stopped me from being afraid of the dark and what I thought lurked in it, and I think that small lie is justified.
It is okay to be scared, and as young children we often find it difficult to differentiate between reality and fiction and the fictional can be frightening! Sometimes the best approach to a child’s fear in ghosts and monsters can be to reduce the fear to something to be laughed at. For example, in Kazuno Kahara’s childrens book ‘The Haunted House’, the main character is a little girl who, upon arriving at her new house, discovered that it is haunted! However, she is actually a witch and deals with this by putting the ghosts in the washing machine and turning them into curtains and bedding. It is such a cute book and it turns scary ghosts into loveable characters.
So too does the book ‘The Ghost Hunter’ by Ivan Jones in which the ghosts are good guys who are hunted down and stored in jars by a human, turning something scary into nice characters to be empathised with. This was turned into a TV series by the BBC when I was younger and I was a huge fan. Joe Nickell’s ‘The Magic Detectives’ provides a different approach and engages children in thinking critically about mysteries and helps children to learn the skills to think critically about other things they encounter too.
To summarise, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to helping children who are frightened of ghosts and monsters. Sometimes you’ll be able to engage children on how to rationally solve what is really happening (could it be the boiler? Maybe it’s old floorboards!), other times you might have to be willing to tell a little white lie to get children to sleep soundly in their own beds, and who knows, maybe you too will have to forge a letter from The Fairy Queen…