I met a little guy today who has unwelcomed nightly visitors. Not just one monster, several. A team. They arrive together and they co-operate. And they terrify him.
This little boy’s mother didn’t even realize there were more than one until we met in one of our sessions together. In fact, we had to monster proof my room just so he could feel safe enough to tell us what was really going on. He was afraid the monsters might endanger him, and so he made the obvious choice to keep himself safe. He kept quiet.
Allow me to introduce you to Mr. Mean Monster
Now you may not know this but my therapy room has special soundproof material in the walls to make it impossible for monsters of all kinds to eavesdrop. So if there is more to say, it could be said there, even if it couldn’t be said at home.
Armed with all this knowledge, his mom and I were gradually introduced to Mr. Mean Monster and his associates. There were many and some of them had been around for years! They grew in number when he and mom immigrated, they moved in with them and now they have friends. They are all scary looking.
But do they look the same? Oh no – just like people and things – they have very specific differences.
First, know your monster
So this troublesome new monster has no eyes. It’s hard to tell if it’s a man monster or a lady monster. It’s blind, it can’t see when you’re upset, or when things are right or wrong. It flails around aimlessly but powerfully and is big enough to break things or squash you if you get in the way. It even points its long, weird single finger.
Now, if you look at it with fully open eyes, it might eat you up. It hasn’t actually said this, but you just know. You can feel its presence, but you can’t point to it, only the other way ’round. You cannot accuse it or touch it. You’re not allowed to talk to it and it has no ears anyway.
It’s impossible to understand what it’s saying, but you might be better off. It used to be a good monster, now it’s bad. Its blue, like a police uniform type blue.
Sometimes the other older monsters are smaller than usual, but if he’s having happy days, sometimes they are bigger. It’s almost like they know what his mood is! Some of them talk and tell him he’s bad or silly, sometimes he thinks this himself and the monsters agree with him, which makes him sad.
I’ve worked with a lot of monsters in my magic soundproof room and have found that if we give them a voice, they usually co-operate and even better, they become very helpful!
Being your child’s Monster Detective – it’s all about context
As his story emerged the monsters emerged, and their meanings and functions became more clear. He is, as many kids are, the son of a separated couple. He lives with mom most of the time and hasn’t seen his father in a long time. He’s protective of Mom and doesn’t want to ‘burden’ her with his fears. She has ‘enough to deal with’ he says.
This child was involved in an incident some weeks before we met where the police were involved. This incident was traumatic, he was injured, shocked, scared and so was his mother. It was another experience where he felt vulnerable and witnessed his own and his mother’s powerlessness.
One of the things that went horribly wrong with this incident was that my little client’s version of events was not believed by the person ‘in authority’. Even though the incident was witnessed and corroborated by his mother. And so they did not receive justice, support or empathy from the very people on whom we all rely for such things.
He felt unheard. He wasn’t heard. He was accused of lying. He was literally pointed at during his questioning, (in a second language), loomed over, and he knew that if he were to point out the unfair treatment that he would be consumed and lose the argument.
I invite you to read the description of the new monster again – doesn’t it make fantastic sense?? The little guy hadn’t a leg to stand on after this incident, he had no strong ally, and he had no words to express it all.
The questions you ask about the monsters will give your child expression
Your child’s monsters are born from his subconscious – not yours. So your picture of their monsters might bear no resemblance to theirs. So here are some questions to help explore what you are helping your child deal with.
- When does the monster come?
- Does it have a gender?
- How many legs? Limbs? Heads?
- Eyes? Ears?
- Can it speak?
- What language does it speak?
- How fast / slow does it move
- How does it sound when it moves?
- How does it feel about you? About the other people in your house? Your life?
- Could we draw him?
- How does it feel?
- What does it want?
If we assume, and I think we can, that each monster has the function of expressing a thought/experience /feeling/fear that the child isn’t yet able to articulate then these details are gold.
These details give us vital clues about the function of your child’s monster and how to manage that monster. Management will be either eviction or befriending. You can choose together. You can be the ally.
How to banish monsters
If we are evicting the monster then all we need know is the language the monster understands. If he has no ears, write him a sign, if he has no eyes, speak loudly. We can practice what to say and even make it funny!
The possibilities are endless – as long as we take it seriously, and play the game. We are showing our children the ultimate respect by treating the monster as if it’s real – even if the child knows it isn’t! Real but get-rid-of-able.
Trying to persuade your child that monsters aren’t real may not be helpful or worse, might increase their anxiety – after all how can you protect them if you can’t even see the danger? (This is simply how I choose to do ‘monster work’, I know others may do it differently).
The plan with this little guy was that this new monster would be spoken to in a very strong voice and told to go away. He could practice opening his eyes and I reminded him that if he looked at the monster that too would make it harmless and it would disappear.
Because in looking right at a problem, you take its power away.
And he is to tell the monster that we all know everything now so secrets won’t keep the monster safe.
Because bad things usually need secrecy to survive.
With regard to the other monsters, who have eyes, they will now be greeted with door signs and will find it hard to get into the room at all because mom and child will make a monster-filterer-outer from tin foil &/or cotton &/or sparkly glitter (maybe not on a carpet??eek!) – all of which monsters universally hate. Because mom is on his side, and isn’t scared of the monsters.
Because bullies need permission from someone to bully and will move on if met by a team of allies.
Are some monsters are more sad than angry? If we ask that question, and if the child decides that that’s true, then we have permission to explore the sad and maybe befriend or reassure the monster. One of the monsters I was once introduced to turned out to be sad and scared because it was growing up, so it wouldn’t go away… how clever!!??
When we enter the metaphorical (play) world of the child we meet all sorts of wonders and horrors. Children greatly dramatize things in their little heads and can be very terrifying. If we cannot see a problem or the child cannot explain it, a monster may be born.
Sometimes they disappear of their own accord and aren’t problematic for long. At least when they’re imaginary, they’re a little easier to work with and ultimately banish than the real ones!
See you again in August and meanwhile, as always, feel free to comment or add your own monster slaying/taming suggestions!
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Sally O’Reilly is an IAHIP, ICP and EAP accredited Counselling Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor with nearly twenty years of professional experience. Her particular area of expertise and interest is work with teenagers. She enjoys a busy full-time private practice and has developed and facilitated a personal development, substance misuse and sexual health programme for teenagers for over 15 years. She is a regular contributor to national print and radio media.
Sally is also the co-author of Two Wise Chicks.
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Last update on 2018-03-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API