Categories: Family Matters
      Date: Jan 25, 2008
     Title: Childhood Monsters

Parents can do a lot to help young kids overcome fears

By Cary and Tonja Rector

I knew there was something terrible down in the cellar. I just knew, because the cellar was dark and damp and it smelled.” Harry and the Terrible Whatzit (Clarion Books) by Dick Gackenbach is one of several children’s books we read with young children who come to our office because they are worried, fearful or anxious.



Harry and the Terrible Whatzit

I knew there was something terrible down in the cellar. I just knew, because the cellar was dark and damp and it smelled.” Harry and the Terrible Whatzit (Clarion Books) by Dick Gackenbach is one of several children’s books we read with young children who come to our office because they are worried, fearful or anxious.

Children worry even under the best of circumstances. Many worries or fears are predictable based on a child’s age and development. Some children are simply born with temperaments that make them more prone to fears.

Parents, however, don’t always know how to best respond to their fearful child. Not all children openly admit they are scared of the dark or worried that something dangerous just might be living under their bed. Instead, your 5- or 7-year-old might stall when it is time to get ready for bed and refuse to go upstairs by himself, leading to arguments and conflict.

Anxiety in its simplest form is the fear that something bad is going to happen. If you cannot predict a positive outcome of a situation, you experience worry. Fear and anxiety are often accompanied by physical symptoms so children express somatic complaints (stomach hurts, heart races, head aches).

In the story, Harry confronts the Whatzit—who, by the way, does live in the basement and is “double-headed, three clawed, six-toed, and long horned.” When Harry faces the Whatzit, the monster begins to shrink. Harry overcomes his fear by acknowledging it. Harry decides for himself to confront the Whatzit; it’s important to note he was not “forced” by someone to tackle his fear.

There are several ways a parent can help a child cope with unreasonable fears or anxieties.


Cary and Tonja Rector are married and live with their children in Manlius. Cary is a licensed mental health counselor and Tonja is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Write to them in care of editorial@familytimes.biz. Consult your own health care provider before making decisions affecting your family’s well-being.