Friday, June 3, 2016

Ghosts and Bedtime

atheist parent

Yesterday my post The Tooth Fairy elicited a really great question from one of my favorite visitor/friends, Janeen:
What do you do about things that aren't so friendly? Natalie, who is 10, is afraid of ghosts and is convinced our house is haunted. Sometimes, because of it, she's afraid to sleep at night and wants to sleep in our room. I don't believe in ghosts and neither does her dad but she's pretty convinced they exist and live here.

That's part of the problem, yes, that if you claim supernatural you open yourself up to the scary ideas too...  :(

But fear is a part of being human. Fear can keep us safe. I'm wondering if Natalie's ghost in the house might just be a manifestation of her fear of...something she can't control...just a thought.

I remember my daughter, at a young age, being frightened of scary things in her room. In fact, I remember my step daughter having the same fear...both about ages 7-11. I made up a bottle of water with some of my perfume and, boom, we sprayed Monster Spray around the room, with the comforting and familiar scent of me.

Read these Magical Thinking links or others you might find (though, I would avoid THIS ONE, lol) and you will see that Natalie is at the ripe age for it. The imagination is strong and kids are becoming more aware of their own powerlessness in the wide, wide world.

Four thoughts immediately come to mind.

  1. Fight magical thinking with magical interventions. Create something that is safe, a dream catcher type of thing. A picture of you holding her in a frame. Something she can hold in her hand. Art around her bed that feels protective... Seems counter intuitive, probably, but reality and logic aren't at work here.
  2. Reality and logic. ;)During the day time, when the fear isn't happening, talk about Natalie's fears, reminding her that monsters and ghosts and all nature of scary ideas are all fictional and imaginary. Include lots of other creatures that she knows are fictional: Zeus, Sauron, Ganesh, whatever she knows for certain to be imaginary. Include ghosts in that list whenever you discuss it. No flying horses, no unicorns, no little green men, no ghosts.
    With time and love she will find her way out of the fear.
  3. Ask some questions about the "reality" of the ghosts and try to figure out the thought process and its weaknesses. Where are they now? What are they trying to do? How do they get here? Gently address the impossibility of those things, ending each thought you consider with a hmmmm....let's give it some thought.
    Just a quiet little talk, let the conversation have time to process in her mind. I have faith in Natalie's ability to work through this ghost thing.
  4. Replace the ghost idea with something comforting.What would you think about playing comforting music at bedtime? I have a couple of ideas for CDs if you are interested. The idea is that the music be relaxing, soothing, and familiar. Listen to the music during the day too, in the background of your day, during hugs or reading time. Music that can be connected to feelings of safety and tranquility.

...Just a few thoughts off of the top of my head.

Does anyone else have ideas or suggestions for Janeen?


  1. Aww, thanks for the blog post! Thinking back, I remember believing in ghosts at around the same age. I even wrote a story in sixth grade called The Ghost of Holy Trinity (name of the school I went to at the time). And my family was a big believer in spirits. In fact, I'm pretty sure my brother still believes that it was our grandmother who warned us that our house was on fire when I was seven. She had been deceased for nearly five years at that point. They also believed in ESP and that playing with a Ouija board was a BAD idea because it opened portals (so you can imagine their reaction when a friend and I found an old one up in our attic and played around with it).

    Some really good suggestions here and I really appreciate it. She does have an app on her kindle that plays relaxing melodies and she says that helps her sleep (especially when I try to put a curfew on it). Probably not the best way for her to get her zzz's but I have a feeling she has inherited some of my sleeping issues (at the very least, she doesn't crash in two seconds like her dad and younger sister are prone to).

    I do have to wonder if some of it is explaining the occasional odd thing that has happened around here. What the more skeptical of us would try to find a scientific explanation for it, one her age will jump to something more mystical. I certainly can't explain why certain things happen (like the TV just going on or off on it's own) but can also be at least somewhat okay with not knowing. That may be too out of control for someone her age and therefore, an explanation of ghosts would (for her) make more sense.

    She does have a great imagination which can be both a blessing and a curse (I say that having one myself).

  2. When I was maybe four, I uncharacteristically became afraid of monsters in my room at night. My mom had me get up and draw a "monster catcher" with colored markers; I remember it looking sort of like a big caterpillar with teeth and many arms. I slept fine after that. But later on I developed an interest in astrology (uuuuughhhh...) that basically derailed my critical thinking ability for the next twenty years. I say this because the attitude toward mysticism in my practically-nonreligious family was "eyeroll/whatever," when it would have been better if they'd said outright, "That stuff is as made up as Santa Claus and if you take it seriously you'll end up compromising your ability to think clearly about things that matter a lot more." I guess this is by way of saying, if she *keeps* believing in ghosts or ventures into other territories with just as little evidence, maybe consider teaching her the importance of not being credulous.


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