Busting Ghosts {Dismantling Childhood Fears}


Ugh! Ghostbusters, enough already!

I know the whole world is excited about the soon-to-be, mega-hit remake. My frustration has nothing to do with the actual movie. I bet it’s going to be a lot of fun; I’ve got my popcorn ready. It’s just that the Ghostbusters have been haunting my kid for years now. And, I am tired of busting ghosts.

boy asleep with flashlight
He feels it deep in his tummy and in his heart, and he struggles with it nightly.

It started in pre-k. My son’s teachers allowed the kids to play some kind of video dancing game. The class’s favorite song was the Ghostbusters theme song. I don’t know exactly what this looked like at school. I’m sure they didn’t turn off the lights and pop out from hiding places wearing masks and scaring the four-year-olds, but based on my son’s reaction, they might as well have. Suddenly, he couldn’t sleep. He was constantly afraid of ghosts in his closet and in his bathroom. He wouldn’t go into to the restroom by himself any more. He began to wake up crying in the night and spending more and more evenings sleeping in our bed. He was afraid to go to school. It was not good.

And, now, a year or so later, here we go again.

I cannot escape the previews for this movie. They are around every corner. And, it’s just beginning. After the movie, will come the merchandise. And then will come the school talk. There seems to be nothing early elementary kiddos like talking more about than things that feel too big and scary for them. Last year it was all Jurassic World and Deadpool. (Yes, my kindergartner was coming home from school talking about Deadpool. How does that happen?) The year before it was zombies. And now, here come the ghosts.

For many children, this probably isn’t a big deal. They might not carry the fear home and into their bedrooms with them at night, but my son is super-sensitive. He feels it deep in his tummy and in his heart, and he struggles with it nightly.

We’ve had a little practice by now. In our house, we bust ghosts by talking about them. It is always okay to feel afraid. Because ghosts and dinosaurs and zombies are scary.

I talk openly and intentionally with my little guy when I’m feeling afraid. When we shop for his birthday party at Party City, and we pass a scary mask, I say, “Oh my! That is so scary! I’m so glad it’s not real. I know it can’t hurt me, but it sure does make my tummy hurt. Let’s go down a different aisle.” And when a frightening preview comes on at the movies, I say, “Wow! That sure looks realistic! I feel kind of scared when I look at it. I know it’s just pretend. I know they used a computer to make that dragon look so real, but I’m still going to look away until it’s over.”

We talk about other words we can use to describe our fear. “Are you afraid, or are you excited?” We talk about how sometimes people like to do things that make them feel afraid. Sometimes fear is a thrill, like on a roller-coaster ride or a big, tall slide — or even a scary movie.

child holding handFear is a big part of life. My little guy will have to learn to manage his fear as he grows into a young man, and it is my job to help steer him. Will he allow his fears to stop him? Will he feel ashamed of his own feelings? Will he see fear as a weakness in others? I intentionally teach my son how to honor fear — to own it without shame and to work with it.

I know that it won’t always be easy for him, but sometimes the way to learn that you are going to be okay is to experience something scary — and then to survive it. It is powerful to feel afraid and to come out safely on the other end of that feeling. Because, I believe, in those moments, in that space where we are standing in the midst of our fear, we can learn what it means to be brave. And I want him to learn that lesson with me holding his hand, telling him, “It’s okay to be frightened, but you are safe, and you’re not alone.”

What strategies have worked to help your child when he or she is feeling afraid?

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Heather P
Heather grew up in Texas and graduated from TCU. Since then, she has made her home in Fort Worth with her husband, her seven-year-old son, one dog, two birds, two frogs and way too many fish. She’s a sucker for a critter and an underdog. Heather has been a teacher for more than 15 years and is currently teaching third grade. She prefers mornings spent watching the Today Show with a cup of coffee and evenings spent on the porch with a margarita. She loves a good, long book, Blue Bell Dutch chocolate ice cream, and relishing every single second of summer.



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