On Dealing With Fear Of Ghosts In Children

washing machine ghost

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.

Yours Sincerely,

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.

monster sprayPart 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.

washing machine ghost

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…

The Loch Ness Monster In Windermere? It’s More Complicated Than That…

Many people don’t know that Windermere has a lake monster “mystery” all of its own. I’ve been investigating Bownessie for years and even took CSIcop investigator Joe Nickell there for a few days in 2012 to get his thoughts on the situation surrounding the alleged beast of Bowness, Windermere. You can read about the investigation and also about my thoughts on the mystery as whole and you can even listen to me on the awesome Monster Talk podcast discussing Bownessie too, but in summary it’s fair to say that it is unlikely that there is anything weird swimming in the waters of Windermere.

There are already some pretty big species of fish in those waters that belong there and it is thought that it is these that are being seen and mistaken for a monster by people who have read about Bownessie in the press. Some of the eyewitness experiences are compelling and, having spoken to numerous people involved in the mystery, I have no reason to believe that everything witnessed was made up. I’m just not convinced that those experiences were caused by some unknown creature… and it might surprise some to know what not everyone who has had a strange encounter in those waters is completely bought by the idea that it was a monster they saw or felt… just “something” that they couldn’t necessarily explain.

As is often the case with these sorts of subjects, it is often the media that put the paranormal spin on things and the reports of eyewitnesses are taken out of context for sensational headlines.

…and then you get something like this

Is this the Loch Ness Monster 150 miles from home?

No. It isn’t. It is a fake photo, but I didn’t need to tell anyone that.

I don’t know the reasons behind this photo. Perhaps it is just a laugh, perhaps it is part of a publicity drive? Perhaps it is just attention seeking from people who know that anything Scotland related will currently get coverage because of the independence referendum gripping the United Kingdom right now?

I’m not going to research the background of this photo because it’s a waste of my time, but my few initial observations are this:

– no wake in the water other than that caused naturally by the breeze (as seen in the foreground of the photo)
– the “reflection” is not disturbed or rippled like the water it is reflected in
– this “creature” is in shallow water at the side of the lake, throwing its huge body out of proportion
– The ecology of Windermere is observed very closely by the Centre of Ecology & Hydrology. They’d know if this was in that water.

Sexism: A Symptom Of Skepticism?


I am a skeptic because I evaluate claims using skepticism and rational inquiry but I do not identify with the skeptic movement for reasons I have stated previously on my blog. Today an article on Buzzfeed by Mark Oppenheimer asked the question ‘Will Misogyny Bring Down The Atheist Movement?

As Betteridge’s law of headlines dictates, the answer to the headline is ‘no’, of course. But it doesn’t mean that the misogynistic aren’t trying to make the atheist, free-thought or skeptic movements  unwelcome spaces for women. They are. It’s a real thing that is happening. I’ve experienced some pretty nasty behaviour from men and women who have reduced me to either a crazy radical feminist or a child throwing a tantrum if I should criticise or question them but what I have experienced is nothing compared to the experiences of other women who exist within or around these movements.

I’ve seen many people outside of the skeptic movement using these particular issues as weapons with which to bash skepticism and skeptics as though people who doubt your claims of paranormal abilities or occurrences are somehow misogynistic by default and therefore not to be trusted. It doesn’t. Sexism is not a symptom of skepticism. It is a human problem, (there’s that law of headlines again, damn it!)

feminismIt’s genuinely great if people from outside of these particular movements want to show support and solidarity with women and men who receive misogynistic abuse, but to use their abuse and their attempts to hold their abusers accountable, seek solutions to the problems that exist, and work to make their communities and movements more welcoming and diverse spaces as a way in which to throw skeptics that  you happen to dislike under the bus is not supportive. Especially when these issues are not the property of these movements alone.

Let us not pretend that paranormal communities don’t have their own issues when it comes to gender representation and that although women are more likely to hold paranormal beliefs in things like astrology, ghosts, new age medicine and psychics it is men who dominate paranormal media and paranormal related public events and speaking engagements. I have never attended or spoken at a paranormal/alternative event that has a harassment policy in place that made it clear how inappropriate behaviour would be dealt with but have attended plenty of skeptic and science conferences and events that do exactly that.

Does this matter? To an extent yes, but this isn’t an exercise in excusing what happens in the skeptic, atheist and free-thought communities by claiming that the paranormal communities are worse. There is no way to measure that and I don’t think it would be particularly useful. This is simply me asking that if you’re going to speak out against the harassment problems in the skeptic, atheist and free-thought communities let it be because you actually care, that you don’t think women deserve to be gaslighted when they speak out about assault and harassment, that you think men who harass women regularly should be held accountable by their peers without having their actions excused time and time again, and not because it’s an easy way to score points. That’s not cool.  It’s cheap.

Don’t be cheap.

Solidarity graphic

If You’re Angry At The Paranormal Community & You Know It…


Clap your hands! Or don’t! It’s your choice!

As is the way you vent your anger at the “paranormal community”. Believe me when I say that I’ve been there… I have scrutinised other ghost researchers through judgemental eyes, felt anger rise within at their pseudo-scientific and/or unethical behaviour, written angry blog posts criticising people, fallen out with other researchers over silly disagreements, been the one who cries ‘why do these people act in this way and make all of us look bad?!‘ and I’ve felt the frustration that comes as a result of all of that…

…and then one day I had an epiphany. I realised that people have to do what people have to do and some people just have to run around in the dark with some EMF meters and stuff and nothing is going to convince them that what they’re doing is wrong and silly. Especially not your angry diatribe about how daft they are and how they’re ruining things for everyone else.

Dude! Run!

Some people will never stop to question if what they think is right is right and some people will take their irrational beliefs to their death-bed… but guess what? That isn’t my problem and you don’t have to make it yours either.

I recently saw a long “woe-is-me” rant posted on the ‘Worst Paranormal’ Facebook page by the Admin that reminded me of how I used to feel about the “paranormal community”. I won’t post it in its entirety here but I’ll share a bit that struck me most:

‘I find the paranormal community to be full of dim-whitted [sic] people who can barely spell their own name, let alone construct a coherent sentence. I am not here for your respect. I am not here to make friends with you (although that does happen often). I am not here to be “popular”. To assume otherwise is just nonsense. While this seems as though I am some rude asshole that doesn’t care about your thoughts and feelings, understand, it is not personal. Nothing I say or do is personal. Some people have a hard time keeping their emotions in check, but I try to keep my emotions out of the paranormal community. It is, after all, just a silly hobby.’

It’s quite patronising to presume that other people in “the paranormal community” owe you anything by way of their behaviour. There are no rules that apply to everyone who researches weird stuff and everyone is involved for their own reasons and Reason isn’t always one of them. Some people need to find ghosts for their well-being and they’re not going to give a crap if you think they’re ruining the paranormal community for you. To assume that people are dim-witted simply because they believe in something supernatural is also pretty patronising too and shows a lack of awareness of how complex belief systems are.

Of course, there are those who approach their personal belief systems in a way that harms others or has a negative effect on society and these people should be criticised. However, it’s possible to criticise ideas, counter research and claims of a pseudo-scientific nature, and debate people without being confrontational and doing it just for point scoring. I often write about the behaviour and methodology of others on this site, but do so in a way that (I hope) engages third parties as well, rather than just suggesting people are idiots.

It’s also important to remember that the average person who believes in ghosts isn’t doing anybody any harm. Over a decade of dealing with people who believe all of sorts of weird things has taught me that hardly anybody enters into these beliefs half-heartedly.

What’s the point of ranting about stupid ghost hunters if people aren’t listening? Or if the only people who are listening already agree with you? What does that achieve? It gains you a dozen people who agree with you and it reaches nobody who disagrees… or if it does reach them they ignore you because you’re being confrontational (even if you do claim that you’re not being emotional…)

Ghost hunters are the worst. Ghost hunters are stupid. Ghost hunters are selfish. Ghost hunters are the worst. Ghost hunters are stupid. Ghost hunters are selfish. Ghost hunters are the worst. Ghost hunters are stupid. Ghost hunters are selfish. Ghost hunters are the worst. Ghost hunters are stupid- Nobody likes a broken record.

You can continue to rant about how stupid people are ruining the Paranormal Community and how beneath you it all is, or you can re-evaluate the way in which you share your thoughts and the way in which you focus on a subject and the way in which you are a part of the community around you. I did the latter and it makes everything so much easier and nicer for everyone.

The “paranormal community” is ambiguous, complex and not at all well-defined or definable. It is bigger than any of us and it is older than any of us and it is weird and strange and irrational and rational and holy shit was that a fucking unicorn?!

I’m not sure what the paranormal community is, just that is something that we all have in common. I’ve learned that you have to accept that you are not the first person to feel offended by the irrational behaviour of others within the community, but if you want those irrational people to listen to you, you have to learn to co-exist with them in this unicorn infested community.

I try to explain why I don’t agree with people rather than just explaining that I don’t agree with people. I turn my attention on the claims and not on those making them as much as I can but I don’t care too much if people don’t agree with me because I refuse to have an ego that demands others agree with me and I refuse to reduce people to abstract ideas when they are much more complex than that.

If you truly give a shit about other researchers you have to accept that for many people you are insignificant and your opinion is even more insignificant and if your method of engagement is “it’s my way or the high way” then you’re going to get angry a lot, and I’m not talking about the good anger that drives progress. I’m talking about the anger that makes your head hurt.

I’m not for one moment suggesting that nobody should criticise ghost hunters who make irrational claims, I’m just suggesting that perhaps it would be more proactive of some people to move past the repetitive criticism that Ghost hunters are the worst. Ghost hunters are stupid. Ghost hunters are selfish. Ghost hunters are the worst. Ghost hunters are stupid. Ghost hunters are selfish. Ghost hunters are the worst. Ghost hunters are stupid. Ghost hunters are selfish. Ghost hunters are the worst. Ghost hunters are stupid. Ghost hunters are selfish. Ghost hunters are the worst. Ghost hunters are stupid…

gif of a record player

Am I Wasting My Time?


Sometimes I’ll encounter skeptics and non-believers who think that I waste my time when trying to engage people via my blog and providing insight into paranormal subjects where others would simply state “there’s no such thing as ghosts” and be done with it. Perhaps, it has been suggested in the past, I should just move on and do something more useful.

spongebob gif - staring at coffee

I can see where they’re coming from with that opinion but I have to completely disagree because they’re completely wrong. When somebody makes a paranormal claim it is non-believers who demand ‘evidence please!’ but when the shoe is on the other foot and non-believers are countering a claim it is acceptable to dismiss it a priori with generalised dismissals and it just doesn’t sit right with me. I understand and agree that as non-believers we cannot prove a negative and that a lack of evidence speaks for itself, but personally I’d rather provide some insight into why I don’t agree with a claimant so that they can properly consider my points (if they wish to) and understand that I’m not being dismissive but that I have good reasons to not agree with them.

If that’s not your cup of tea then I’ll completely understand if you do not start a blog on which you do that very thing.

Me? I’d rather share the knowledge I’ve learned over the years in the hope that it  might help others if they find it, and I know for a fact that my blog posts are regularly shared by people who are trying to explain to other people what rational causes there may be for phenomena that they’ve experienced, and with this in mind I feel like I’m not wasting my time at all.

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about Most Haunted and how it unintentionally inspired unethical ghost hunters and someone left a long rant as a comment (which I did not approve) explaining how I was wasting my time by caring,

any fool that believes in ghosts deserves all they get, imo … The world has bigger problems than some shitty TV show … focus on the real problems in society…

It’s fine to disagree with people and I always welcome good debate in the comments of my blog, but this general lack of respect for people that some non-believers have just because they believe in something that is deemed as irrational is disturbing and it is not welcome.

Does the irrational behaviour of strangers as they react to death, tragedy and fear offend your rational mind that much? Do you take it that personally when someone doesn’t agree with you? Does it really annoy you that I spend time writing about these things?

Then get off of my blog.

It’s that simple.