Our two year old has been obsessed with monsters lately. Obsessed. Sometimes he thinks monsters are something fun or silly. Whenever anyone leaves the house he shouts, “love you, watch out for monsters!” He loves to run around the house and be the monster while chasing the other little boys around, laughing as he goes. If we ever look over at him and he looks lost in thought, we can ask him what’s on his mind and nine times out of ten, he says…you guessed it…”monsters.”
Usually this obsession is a good time and we all play along with him. Sometimes, though, he can work up the monster idea in his head a little too much. A little too much thinking on monsters, and their sharp teeth, and how big they are, can get his little mind in a frenzy and he becomes afraid. He has asked us how we will keep him safe from monsters and if a monster would eat him. In his mind those big furry sharp toothed monsters are just so much fun…until they aren’t.
Telling a little one that they have nothing to be afraid of and that monsters aren’t real doesn’t always work. At just two or three years old, kids just can’t completely grasp the difference between reality and fiction so a simple statement from you might not be enough to calm their fears about those unseen imaginary beasts. Sometimes with these little guys, we just have to get creative on ways to make them feel safe because no matter how safe your home actually is, it doesn’t mean anything until it feels safe.
I have seen some great ideas on Pinterest and other mom blogs I have read. Some suggest getting a spray bottle filled with water and labeling it “Monster Spray.” Then the little one can go around the house spraying monster repellent to keep them at bay. Others suggest night lights or a personal flashlight to keep their little one feeling in control of the situation. We might give these ideas a try in the future, but today we decided to try something else.
The main fear our sweet two year old has expressed is that he could be eaten by a monster one day. As we were talking about it, I had an idea. What if instead of the monster eating him, he could eat the monster first. He listened with fascination as I told him that if he could be the one to eat a monster, that would make him the strongest and after that no monster would ever want to eat him up! If he ate a monster, the other monsters would find out about it and none of them would ever mess with him again. He got a look of determination on his face and we decided that we would eat a monster for dinner that very night.
Back to the Pinterest boards I went and started searching. After a few awkward searches like “Eat a Monster” and “Food that Looks like a Monster” I stumbled upon a recipe for monster meatloaf. This was just a regular meatloaf covered in ketchup and wrapped with bacon like the cloth strips around a mummy. Toss in a few onion slices for eyes and teeth and it was a bonafide monster. This was something I could do and thank goodness it was because I had already promised that we would be eating a monster in just a few short hours!
The look on his face was priceless as I took the monster out of the oven and placed him on the dinner table. Normally I would cut the slices at the stove and bring the plates to the table, but tonight we wanted the full affect. I placed the whole monster on the table and allowed our little one to help me slice up the monster and serve it to each person. Every time he cut a slice he would snarl and growl at the monster, asserting his dominance in a somehow equally adorable and gruesome way. He chomped down on his monster and laughed, and then continued on as if this was a normal dinner. That night when we put him to bed he didn’t mention being eaten by a monster, but laid down with confidence, knowing that he was safe and that those monsters had nothing on him!
Meeting a child where they are in their fear is one thing that I learned from my Dad. As I was growing up, my parents led and taught a variety of parenting classes and conferences. One of the stories I heard over and over again from my Dad while he taught was one about a foster child named Victor. Dad would tell this little story often as a way to teach parents how to help a child through their fears instead of just dismissing them as unfounded.
As my Dad told it, one night he and my Mom were in bed asleep when he heard a scream from one of the upstairs bedrooms. He went to the room to find Victor, one of our newer foster placements curled up in the corner of his bed, screaming hysterically. He was obviously terrified but at first my Dad wasn’t able to see why. He looked around the room and saw all of the typical things a person would expect. A dresser, yesterday’s dirty clothes in the corner, a couple of toys laying around, and a black sharpie that Victor had probably snuck into his room earlier that day.
Seeing nothing obvious that would be causing Victor so much distress he sat next to him on the bed and asked what was wrong. Still unable to speak because of his fear, Victor stretched out his hand and pointed a shaky finger toward the end of the bed. There, on the bedpost was a fresh drawing of a spider. It was drawn by Victor with the stolen sharpie earlier that day and it was the source of his terror.
At this point, still blurry with sleep, my Dad could have dismissed Victor, telling him he wasn’t allowed to be afraid of his own drawing. He could have laughed at him or gotten angry to have his sleep interrupted by something so silly. My Dad could have tried to reason with him and explain away the fear with just words.
Instead, he took Victor by the hand. They went downstairs and got a big roll of duct tape and returned to the bedroom, weapon in hand. Together, my Dad and Victor wrapped the duct tape around the bedpost as many times as they needed to until Victor felt safe again. The spider was stuck under all that tape and Victor would be able to sleep in peace.
I love that my Dad allowed Victor to be a part of destroying the thing that scared him. It didn’t matter that it was just a drawing. It didn’t matter that Victor was the one that put it there in the first place. It just mattered that he was afraid and that my Dad gave him the ability to both confront and overcome that fear with just a few pieces of tape and a little time.
The kids that come into our home have experienced much more than sharpie spiders and imaginary monsters. Their fears are real and are sometimes grounded in the most horrific experiences we can imagine. If we can find ways to teach them how to face and concur their little fears, they can use those tools to fight the bigger fears too. Through things like monster meatloaf and duct-taped spiders we can teach our little ones that they are powerful and that they are stronger than the things they fear.