My 6 year old son seems to be bothered by distressing thoughts. This started about 2 months ago with a “scary book” that he saw at school. Apparently two older kids brought in a book which he found upsetting. After discussing the book with him it sounds like a goosebumps book or something similar. He said the front cover had a picture of a hand surrounded by fire and inside there were illustrations of ‘scary aliens and monsters’

This caused what he describes as “his nightmares” - basically at various times throughout the day he will remember something from the book and get very upset. When it happens he will get a far away terrified look in his eyes, like he is about to cry and say “I’m having my nightmare again”. At night he will sometimes be afraid of going to sleep and during the day these thoughts will interrupt what he is doing. Even though he calls the episodes ‘his nightmares’ he doesn't seem to be disturbed by actual bad dreams while sleeping.

When this started happening we spoke to him about it and explained that the book was fiction, what was shown in it wasn't real, etc. We expected it to all blow over in a week or two, but months later its still happening. We have spoken to the teachers to try and find out what the book was, but because the incident happened so long ago there is not much they can do.

Recently he also seems to be having other out of character behaviour. We are not sure if this is related to ‘his nightmares’ or both the nightmares and other behaviour are caused by some other underlying cause. We are also not sure how serious all this is - perhaps its just a normal phase he is going through and he will grow out of it in another month or two, or perhaps its something we should be looking at professional help for?

4 Answers 4


What your kid has seen was obviously a traumatic experience, and I strongly recommend that you seek professional help in your case. Even if you can 'fix' the actual problem, the trauma might otherwise remain hidden for many years, resulting in irrational fears later. There are general steps on how to deal with the situation, but it requires a good recognition of the details and some experience to apply those properly, as every person is different.

Kids at that age are commonly afraid of "monsters under their bed". While those are actually only fantasies in the mind of a child (probably an old remain of days where kids were to stay inside the cave), your son has actually "seen" those monsters for real, or at least that is what he believes. If your son does not accept that this was just fiction, then the next logical step is to dive into his fantasy and dismantle it from within, while ultimately focusing on the fact that those are no real threats.

A possible solution - one of many, as an example - would be to remove the fear, give him something strong to hold on and to give him the feeling of safety, and then, once the trauma is over, explain that all this was just in his mind and never really existed. But again: unless you are psychological experts or feel 100% confident that you can do this on your own, I suggest to get some help on this.

A first step for this would be to address the obvious feelings he currently has. He most likely feels vulnerable and unprotected, something that you as the parents can counter by giving him the feeling of protection and love. This goes from cuddling to letting him sleep with you in your bed for a few days, until he accepts that he is not alone in this, but that you, as his parents, stand beside him and fend off anything that might want to harm him. While this step won't solve the general problem, it will solve the attendant symptoms.

The next step would be to create something for him to believe in, something that he "knows" will keep the monsters away. This can be any item that your son would believe in having the power to repel any monster, maybe a teddy-bear, a dream-catcher or something exotic, you might even pretend to cast a spell if that is within your acceptable range of belief. It is mostly a question of how you present it, but the important thing is that your son actually believes in the power of said item to keep him safe. You might want to copy some situations from children's stories to make it feel real to him. The general idea behind this is to generate a safe-guard, where he can examine what he fears while feeling completely protected from any harm. So he can begin to process the trauma and transforms it from an irrational fear to something rational that can be dealt with with words.

The final step is then, once the thing is over and he no longer feels in danger (when the trauma is over), to explain that it wasn't the item that kept things away, but that it was himself who kept them away by believing in his strength. The last step is important, as it transfers the confidence in the item into himself.


You should talk to kids like kids. bringing a logic of

that is a fiction

works for older kids around 10 to 13 years old. make him believe in a hero or higher power that saves and protects him [like himself, when he enters the room call his name heroically! ] and you should make him fight that fear not ignoring it and leaving it behind.

  • Hmmm, the reason we specifically explained the book was fiction is they have been discussing fiction and non-fiction books at school. He seemed to understand the idea really well and is into looking at different bits of media (movies, books, games, etc) and trying to figure out by himself if they are fiction or non-fiction.
    – Luke
    Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 11:05

At a young age children are better equipped to fix problems through revisionist story telling. Have him talk about seeing the scary book and laughing at it. Or that the pictures weren't scary, but silly. Change his reaction to it rather than trying to have him reason it away.

This is a technique used with adults to 'rewrite' painful memories. You adjust the story and tell it enough times, even you begin to believe it.

  • This is such a great answer, and one that I know works. As a young child, my imagination was such that I didn't even need a scary book inspire scary thoughts. The only way I could ever get myself out of my self inflicted nightmares (day or night) was by doing exactly what you suggest: re-imagining the story with a lighter tone or, drawing the pictures that frightened me so I could be "in control" and make a change. To this day I use this technique to stop the downward spiral of anxiety nightmares. It's a great skill. I hope the OP gives it a try.
    – Jax
    Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 13:38

Start by acknowledging the fear. This is a real emotion for the child.

Then talk about what is causing the fear. Discuss the "nightmares" and talk about what is happening to him during those events.

Then ask the child to come up with strategies to help themself during those times of distress and suggest some techniques - look at a window and remember that you are in the real world, and not in that mean story world; or imagine that you are the hero in the story world and can defeat the baddies - and then talk about the people who drew the pictures, perhaps drawing some yourself but you add silly funny features.

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