Help Kids Overcome a Fear of Monsters Under the Bed

Every night, kids across the globe worry that there’s a monster hiding under the bed. It’s a common fear that most adults can relate to—the fear of monsters isn’t new. In fact, this fear pre-dates video games and social media and has persisted throughout the generations.

If your children are convinced that once the lights go out, there’s a hairy monster who is going to crawl out from under the bed and "get them," you’re not alone. But, it can be tough to know how to calm kids' anxieties, convincing them that they can sleep in their bed alone without being attacked by a monster that lives under the bed.

Overcoming fear of monsters under the bed
Illustration by JR Bee, Verywell.

The Fear of Monsters

The fear of darkness, especially of being left alone in the dark, is one of the biggest fears kids experience.

A 2015 study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology suggests that the fear isn't necessarily of the dark, but is more a fear of nighttime.

Some researchers suspect this is evolutionary. Nighttime is when people may be most vulnerable to predators. And, children may have learned to cry as a way to get adult attention and stay safer from nighttime danger. So, it’s likely that your child’s fear of nighttime and darkness is hardwired.

The anxiety kids naturally experience at bedtime is likely to fuel their imagination—which might be why they're convinced that the second you leave them alone, a monster is hiding under the bed.

It’s also likely that popular culture also plays a role in fostering kids’ imaginations about monsters. There are always books, movies, and cartoons about strange looking creatures.

As frustrating as it can be to have to return your children to bed half a dozen times because they insist there’s a monster under the bed, it can be helpful to gain a better understanding of age-appropriate fears so you can best decide how to intervene.

Age-Appropriate Fears

Childhood fears often aren’t rational. But that doesn’t mean those fears aren’t real. Here’s what to expect from your child through the ages:

Toddlers

Children between 2 and 3 may be afraid of anything they don’t understand. Whenever they see something that doesn’t seem quite right—like Grandma wearing a bandage or a plate with a crack in it—they may begin to cry.

Preschoolers

Between the ages of 3 and 5, children tend to fear imaginary dangers, like the fear that a monster lives under the bed. They have trouble separating reality from fantasy, and they have vivid imaginations that fuel their fear.

School-Aged Children

Fears often become more reality-based during the school years. A child may be scared of thunderstorms, barking dogs, or fires. They also may worry about their parents’ health and their own safety. They may even still experience some sleepover anxiety.

As their understanding of the world grows, irrational fears about monsters living under the bed should slowly begin to disappear.

How to Help Your Child

It’s important to show empathy—even when you’re feeling frustrated because your child cries out repeatedly or gets out of bed a dozen times every night. Here are some strategies that can help ease fears about monsters lurking under the bed (or in the closet).

Validate Your Child’s Feelings

Rather than saying, “Don’t be scared,” say, “I know you feel really afraid right now.” This statement sends a message that says it’s OK to feel scared. Don’t accuse children of being overly dramatic or trying to get attention. Instead, recognize that they are scared and work on healthy ways to address those fears.

Use Dramatic Play

Encourage your child to use a dollhouse, stuffed animals, or other toys to show you how someone might deal with the fear of monsters under the bed in a healthy way. Kids may depict a brave boy who scares the monsters away or a girl who learns how to sing herself to sleep so she isn’t afraid. Dramatic play can help your child develop his own creative solutions.

Encourage Artwork

Encouraging children to draw pictures of monsters or paint a picture of how they feel when they try to go to sleep, gives them another avenue for expression. Additionally, artwork can be helpful in allowing kids to work through their fears. Talking about the artwork later also may help them feel safer.

Look Under the Bed

Before you shut off the lights at night, it helps to ask children if they want to look under the bed together. Use a flashlight and look around under there—if they want to do so.

Searching the places where kids think monsters might be lurking helps them confront their fears head-on.

Practice Being in the Dark

When children are afraid of the dark, doing something fun when the lights are out can help them see that darkness isn’t so scary. You might read books at bedtime with only a flashlight or tell them stories about your childhood in the dark before they fall asleep. You also could look at the stars and the moon before bed and help them find the constellations. The goal is to demonstrate that the darkness is not a bad thing.

Give Your Child Some Control

Asking children what could help them feel brave and then being willing to go along with the suggestions if they are within reason gives kids a sense of control over their fear. It also helps them learn to problem-solve. Whether they say sleeping with their stuffed animal helps them feel better, or they suggest wearing their superhero pajamas, give them a bit of control and you might find they feel better.

Use a Night Light

Sometimes having a little extra light in the bedroom can ease a child's fears. But just be sure to do so cautiously. Light can interfere with kids' circadian rhythms and keep them awake longer. So, if you opt for a night light, make sure it’s dim and that it doesn't shine in your child's face.

Address Behavior Problems

When children get out of bed repeatedly, return them to bed. Or, if they argue about bedtime, don’t allow their arguments to delay bedtime. Show empathy for your child, but address bedtime behavior problems consistently. You don't want bedtime to become a battle every night.

Monitor Your Child’s Media Use

Restrict your child’s access to media that includes violence or anything that may be scary. Be especially mindful of anything your child may be consuming just before bed. And refrain from reading stories that involve monsters, villains, or scary animals before bedtime.

Create a Calming Bedtime Routine

Taking a bath, reading a few books, and snuggling with Mom or Dad before bed are just a few things you might want to incorporate into your child’s bedtime routine. A calming bedtime routine can help your child fall asleep faster—which means less time to worry about monsters under the bed.

Read Books About Overcoming Fear of the Dark

A 2015 study found that reading books about overcoming fears of the dark reduced nighttime fears in children over the course of several weeks. While there are many books available, children in the study specifically benefited from reading and doing the exercises in Uncle Lightfoot, Flip That Switch: Overcoming the Fear of the Dark.

When older children still believe that it’s possible a monster or a hungry lion might magically appear under the bed or in the closet, remind them that their imagination may play tricks on them—especially if they're already feeling anxious at night.

Older kids also can benefit from learning healthy coping strategies, like breathing techniques or positive self-talk as well. Then, they can calm their minds and their bodies when their imaginations run wild.

What to Avoid

When it comes to addressing fears about monsters or the dark, it's important to empathize with your child and offer solutions. Likewise, there are some parenting strategies that may backfire in the end causing your child’s fears to become worse. Here are some things you want to avoid.

Teasing Your Child

Making fun of your child’s fears may backfire. Likewise, you should avoid embarrassing your kids or calling them names like a "scaredy cat." Many adult fears and phobias aren’t necessarily based on fact either—like the fear of flying or the fear of public speaking. Honor your child’s feelings by being respectful.

Arguing your logic

Don’t waste your energy trying to convince your child that monsters under the bed are illogical—especially if you’ve got a toddler or preschooler. Your logic won’t make their fears disappear. Instead, be empathetic and compassionate.

Minimizing Your Child’s Feelings

Saying, “Quit being such a sissy,” or “It’s not a big deal,” is harmful. Instead, acknowledge that your child’s fear is real and indicate that you understand what it’s like to feel afraid.

Scaring Your Child

It’s important for kids to face their fears gradually. Avoid doing anything drastic to help your child overcome fears. Locking kids in their room when they're terrified or allowing them to watch scary movies will reinforce their fears.

When to Seek Professional Help

In most cases, the fear of monsters under the bed slowly goes away as a child matures. That doesn’t mean the fear of the dark will go away completely, however. It’s normal for older kids to still be a bit wary of the dark.

If your child’s fears seem to interfere with daily life, you may want to consider professional help.

When children have trouble sleeping because they're scared, it may affect their behavior the next day. Or, if their fears of monsters are so big that they often talk about them during the day or all of their play revolves around monsters under the bed, talk to your pediatrician.

Your child's doctor may offer some strategies that can improve sleep, reduce fear, or address bedtime behavior problems. If your pediatrician thinks your child may have anxiety or a phobia, your child may be referred to a mental health professional.

Talk therapy can teach your child skills to reduce anxiety. Sometimes parents are invited to be involved in a child’s treatment. The goal is to equip you with the ability to support your child’s efforts and assist in reducing fears.

A Word From Verywell

With a little kindness and creativity, you can help your kids face their fears of the dark and about monsters under the bed. In fact, helping them work through these fears builds a foundation for addressing fears they may face in the future. Just be patient. It may take awhile for their fears to dissipate.

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  2. Lewis KM, Amatya K, Coffman MF, Ollendick TH. Treating nighttime fears in young children with bibliotherapy: evaluating anxiety symptoms and monitoring behavior change. J Anxiety Disord. 2015;30:103-12. doi:10.1016/j.janxdis.2014.12.004