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About a month ago we got two foster children, ages 9 and 7. The younger one often has nightmares, and in the daytime has many fears. She won't take a bath by herself and she is afraid of mirrors. We learned this week that these behaviors are all a result of her fear of "ghosts".

We tried reassuring her that ghosts don't exist, but apparently her mother had taught her that they are real and dangerous.

Any suggestions on how to ease her mind and convince her that she has nothing to fear from ghosts?

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Casper the friendly ghost~ – Doc Jun 4 '14 at 19:59
I may get flamed for this but from as early as they would listen to my insane stories, I would always tell my kids horror stories of great evils, demons, monsters, and so on. Early on they had no fear that I could notice and they loved the tales of the predator, monsters, goblins, etc. As they grew it was like common place. They don't seem to be afraid of monsters now. Dogs though, guess I failed on that one. – Kai Qing Jul 15 at 0:36

10 Answers 10

up vote 25 down vote accepted

It is important to recognize that even though we, as adults, know that there are no such things as ghosts, to the child they are real. And no amount of logic will convince them otherwise. You have to accept, for a while, that what they think is real, is actually real, and then you can deal with making it not scary.

So rather than trying to reverse their thinking, try to control it and direct it. My son (5 years old at the time) was sure there were ghosts. So we talked about "How do they get in the house?" Apparently they can come in the windows. What he didn't know, and I did, was that it you put a piece of tape in the corner of the window it blocks the ghosts.

He was also afraid of vampires (did I mention I hate Halloween). He was afraid they would get in his room. What he didn't know was that vampire are afraid of blue carpet... oh did I mention his room has blue carpet in it.

I couldn't convince him that neither one was real, but I could divert and redirect his concerns until he was more rational and we could talk about make-believe and reality.

I hear that if you put a piece of tape over the corner of a mirror it blocks out ghosts just as good as it does on windows.

Hope this idea works.

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On a similar note, one of our friends took a colored spray bottle, printed up a custom "monster-be-gone spray" label, and explained that the bottle contained pheromones that were invisible and odorless to humans, but would instantly repel any monster. The girl it was given to originally would spray around her room every night, and then eventually just kept it near her bed "just in case". – Beofett Aug 21 '12 at 12:05
Whether or not logic will reassure the child depends in large part on upbringing (and probably temperament also). If adults haven't made a habit of carefully explaining and providing evidence for all sorts of things, then it's unlikely that a child will accept either a statement of fact (people can be wrong!) or an explanation (who cares about that, I'm scared!). So I agree regarding this particular child; the ghosts sound very real to her, and logic probably won't work. For other children, though, it may work just fine. – Rex Kerr Aug 24 '12 at 15:39

If you are religious, you can tell her that God is stronger than any ghost, and he will protect her. This is from the point of view of a Christian, but might work for other religions too. Tell her that she can pray for God to protect her, and he will, and the ghosts can't get to her. This allows her to believe what her mother told her, but also gives her a way to deal with that evil.

(I'd use the tape on the mirror idea or anti-ghost spray from @Chris M in addition.)

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Defend against one ghost with another? – Dave Clarke Aug 22 '12 at 11:06
In a way, yes. :) – thursdaysgeek Aug 22 '12 at 19:30
While we cannot disprove the existence of ghosts and, therefore, some will continue to believe in them, it reasonably follows that if there are many ghosts then some should be stronger than others (as is true for animals, plants, etc.). So, the logic seems valid. – DrJ Jun 18 '13 at 15:51
+1 for acknowledging a potential viewpoint of the child, if not the OP. Ghosts are not only associated with superstition, but religion as well. If the child has a framework for religion from her upbringing then it could assist in overcoming fears or other challenges. Objectively, that's one of the benefits or religions in general! – CreationEdge Jul 14 at 3:45

First, constantly reassure her that she has nothing to fear. Whenever she is scared, be patient and walk her through.

Here's the best thing I can think of. You could also try cartoons that have friendly ghosts, so you turn the fear into something she could laugh at. Casper, is one. Casper is a friendly ghost. The show can help her neutralize the fear by turning ghosts into friends.

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I'm not sure that adding more ghost-thoughts to her daily experience is a good idea, even if she eventually decides that there are some ghosts that are not dangerous. It might help, but it might make things worse. I think your first suggestion is a safer bet. – AlexMA Aug 20 '12 at 2:35

Me and my kids slept at my friend's house in the basement a while ago while the family was out of town. It was a creepy basement and they said they thought there was a ghost there. I explained that even if there was a ghost there, he wasn't there to scare anyone or hurt them, he was just walking around. It might be creepy, but nothing to be afraid of since he will not hurt you. You can try the other tactics to see if those work, but until you are attacked by a ghost, there is no reason to believe it is going to hurt you.

My son is 12 and figured out on his own that Santa was played by me and his mom when he was 3, so tape on the window or a bottle of water wouldn't work, but letting him know that the ghost wasn't there to hurt him helped.

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Give the child a nightlight or flashlight. Play soothing music to help her calm down at bedtime. Hug her and stay with her briefly so she knows she can count on you. Give her a favorite stuffed animal or doll to take to bed. Read a story or watch a nonthreatening cartoon about a friendly or helpful ghost to point out that ghosts do not have to be frightening. Why not watch Casper or Ghostbusters with your kids? I think they won't be afraid anymore.

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While I think the first suggestions are very good, I don't know that I would encourage a belief in ghosts in a child that is afraid of them. Ghostbusters is way too scary for a 7-year-old. – MJ6 Jul 6 '13 at 20:45

I used to be afraid of a boogey man in my closet as a kid, and even sort of into my teens. When I figured out that 'the boogey man' was my mind assigning something tangible to an intangible fear, the fear of the boogey man went away. The 'boogey man' in my closet was actually the deep seated fear in my subconscious of my father, who was prone to enraged outbursts and making the family feel fearful.

When my 7 year old daughter surprised me one night about a ghost in her room, I didn't try to trick her with ghost spray and putting tape on the window. I didn't delve into the spirit world and get all mystical on her. I stopped what I was doing (working late at my computer), and told her that number one, fear is something that is part of being human, and to some degree, it's an important thing to have if you want to survive. I told her that if there wasn't something that made her fearful every day until the day she passes on, then I'd be really concerned.

Fear is part of the package when it comes to being human. It helps you look both ways before you cross the street. We evolved and survived because fear kept us alive. Then, I told her that 'a ghost' is just her mind trying to put a picture on something that's bothering her that she can't quite explain. So what was bothering her? I let her talk. Turns out her older brother was changing and didn't want to play with her anymore. Turns out he's taken to yelling at her a lot when I'm not looking. Turns out that she's having trouble making friends, and she's scared that one day I might leave her (full disclosure: I had had a big argument with my wife a few weeks earlier where I gave the "that's it! I'm leaving" speech). After letting my daughter talk, and letting her shed a tear or two, she felt better and went to bed. The ghost was gone. If a ghost is bothering your child, don't try to trick them into chasing ghosts away. Take five minutes out of your busy schedule (yeah, you'll have to turn off the tv) to simply ask... "so what's REALLY bothering you?"

Edit: I understand that some kids won't talk as easily as my daughter does. Trying to get a word out of my son about his feelings is close to impossible. But when your kid tells you that something is scaring them, that's probably a good time to have a chat. Try to think about anything that happened in their environment in the last week or so that upset them. You'll probably find the tip of the iceberg there. If you get nothing but silence, default to the "fear is a necessary human emotion that helps us survive" speech. That's always worked for me. If anything it will probably bore them to sleep. :-)

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My little bro was afraid of closet monsters when we were very young. But I had imaginary people I talked about a lot. One night when he was having trouble sleeping I told him about my friends and how they would watch us and fight any monsters that came. It worked. We went to sleep shortly after and never had closet monster issues again, and this had been an ongoing problem. He was 3, though. – CreationEdge Jul 14 at 4:52
In my case, it didn't help that in 4th grade, the substitute teacher (I'll refrain from declaring exactly what I think of her - okay basically she was an awful, painfully ignorant woman) had the brilliant idea to read Stephen King's "The Boogeyman" to the class. I couldn't sleep for years. – Paul Jul 14 at 19:42

You will not be able to argue that a ghost does not exist, because of course why should she simply believe you instead of her mother? You don't have the authority to know better. Avoid the conflict of your truth versus her mother's truth. Instead try and get on her mother's side: What you can do is explain to her why her mother believed in ghosts. That is understandable for a child and will allow her to differentiate herself from the believes of her mother. But think about this carefully and don't devalue her mother, instead make believing something wrong a good thing. For example, you could say that believing in ghosts helped her mother because it gave her strength to make a good life for her child. Ghosts are powerful and they give power to the person who believes in them. But they don't really exist, and the power is really in the person herself, she just does not know it. See how I change the meaning of the ghost also? In my explanation the frightening ghost is only frightening because it is strange, in the same way that a young child is afraid of cars or dogs, but when you understand the ghost, you will realize that it is a good thing, because it is actually your own power become manifest.

In short: make the ghost something positive, something positive about the mother and something positive in itself for the cild, and then integrate it into the childs self-image.

Also, try and understand the function of the fear in the present circumstances. The child has lost (?) its original family and is forced into a new situation. You are stangers to her, but she must trust you, because if she doesn't, she will be completely alone. In fact she is like a ghost herself, in a way, in danger of fading away, trying to grab onto the living.

An afterthought on frightening images.

Mostly we are afraid of the unknown. Frankenstein's Monster is most frightening as long as we don't see it. As soon as it actually appears, it becomes rather harmless and humanlike.

When you have a nightmare, you are awakening to get away from it. You are afraid to fall back asleep, because you have to face the nightmare again. But if you actually force youself to stay inside the dream (something you can do in the half-sleep state before you become fully awake), the nightmare will close in on you only to prove itself completely harmless. Nightmares that I have faced in this way (by not waking up fully and simply stopping to "run") have often turned into a reassuring and comforting emotion.

Try and help the girl to "meet" her ghost, then it will disappear, because it will transform into something benign.

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My little sister's a bit older so wouldn't go for the tape on the window or monster spray. But she loves Disney princesses- particularly Mulan.

I showed her how the family lit incense in their shrine while praying to appease the ancestors. I let her know lighting incense is an actual thing people do to stop harmful ghosts. She's happy with this as because it's real she knows I'm taking her seriously. We're gonna try turning her room lavender scented tomorrow :)

I hope it works. She's convinced evil spirits are knocking on her window because of creepypastas my other sister showed her...

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Hi, and welcome. Since you're here, please have a look at the site tour and visit the help center for guidance on how to use this site. Again, welcome! – anongoodnurse Aug 18 at 23:28

She is actually correct that spirits do exist, but it is not something of which she needs to be afraid. Yes, they are all over the place, pretty much everywhere we go, but a spirit won't and can't hurt you at all. They may talk about you or what you are doing, but we normally don't even realize they are there as we can't see them or hear them most of the time. To hear them, it normally requires an audio recorder to pick up an EVP which I've done thousands of times. I would recommend reassuring her that even though yes, they do exist, they aren't out to harm her, and they are just people who are currently earthbound who aren't currently in a physical body. Explain that our natural form is a spiritual being, and we are just currently in a physical body, so in essence, she is really being afraid of others like herself, they just aren't currently incarnated. She was in spirit form before she was incarnated into her current body, and she will return to a spirit form after she dies, and if she was to not go right to the light after she dies, she would be an earthbound spirit like those she is afraid of until she did go to the light and progress.

Here is a link to a web page which gives good instructions on talking to your child about ghosts:

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I notice this is an old post but maybe this will get through. Children are and will be very open to the elements of spirit. If they want to know or are talking about spirit visitation tell them the truth. They see and here more than you will ever know. Let them talk to you about it and gently ask details of their experience, assure them it is not something to be afraid of. Let them know they can ask questions from their visitor. If the situation is of a negative nature then we are most definitely are in need of support, this you will find in the way of a secure and experienced team, be sure the team has experience with children and never leave them on their own with a team for your own safety. Spirit are attracted to most energies and need answers, this is why they visit. Get the answers and you will calm the situation. For anyone who doubts this, I have been working with spirit for over 15 years and the advice I give is based on the hands on experienced I have learned.

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@Erica: Thanks - I was wondering whether this warrants a spam flag... – Stephie May 10 at 15:06

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