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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 at 19:59

7 Answers 7

up vote 21 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
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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

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

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
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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

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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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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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: http://theshadowlands.net/ghost/tellkids.html

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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

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