Identity Discovery

A report just in from the fifteen-year-old counselor-in-training I last wrote about. She writes, “I’ve just been recuperating from an amazing (but tiring) week at camp. It was such a great experience and I learned so much. I’m in what we like to call a ‘post camp depression’ wishing to go back.” Campers apparently sign up for one or two week stays and the training for future counselors is organized accordingly.

I learned further that she had 9 and 10-year-old girls in her bunk and for many of them it was their first year at camp. She had to deal with some homesickness and dehydration, explaining that with younger kids you can’t get them to drink water and the heat made them tired. The solution was to have more water breaks during activities.

She found that if one girl was homesick it led to others becoming homesick. However, once they were involved in activities they got over it and the girls all had a great week. The goal for her group was that when they left they should feel that they wanted to come back.

She herself learned more about how things work at camp and was surprised by how involved the CITs actually were. Although the counselors had more responsibilities they were more willing than she expected to let a CIT handle a situation – like a girl’s homesickness. At times the line between the counselor and CIT was blurred.

The difference from having been a camper herself was not only in the responsibility but also in having more freedom, such as at night when campers have a curfew. “You learn what it is like to be on the opposite side of how things go that you experienced as a camper.”

Listening to these observations from a fifteen-year-old brought to mind the developmental theories of famed psychologist Erik Erikson who defined the significant developmental stages of life. Specifically, his stage 5, called “Identity vs Role Confusion”, refers to the adolescent years 13-21. According to Erikson, development from previous stages depends on what is done to an individual, whereas from this stage forward development depends on what the individual herself, does.

In his view this stage marks the shift from childhood to adulthood and is the turning point of human development, the time when the person develops the ability to search for his own meanings and directions, as well as others. Adolescents contemplate on the role they want to play in the adult world and learn to develop a solid relationship and commitment to their principles, ideals and friends.

Erikson writes of possible confusion about what role they want to embody as they get to experience mixed feelings and ideas about how they will fit into society. The resolution of this “identity confusion” is characterized by developing self-esteem and self-confidence, personal identity and pride, dignity and standards, and appreciating useful personal roles and reasons for being successful.

It is interesting to contemplate how any individual situation fits Erikson’s developmental description. In this instance what strikes me is this 15-year-old taking from her experience, “You learn what it is like to be on the opposite side of how things go that you experienced as a camper.” Having recently been a camper she now has been exposed to the perspective of one in an authority role.

This sounds like an important step on the road from childhood to adulthood. Young people tend to see the rules and regulations of parents and teachers as serving no purpose other than frustrating the youngsters’ own wishes.

My granddaughter sent me this quote as her final thought: “I have a conviction that a few weeks spent in a well organized summer camp may be of more value educationally than a whole year of formal school work.” Charles William Eliot

Next Steps

My fifteen-year old granddaughter applied to become a counselor-in-training (CIT to the initiated) at the summer camp she loved and had attended as a camper for a number of years. She was filled with excitement and anxiety as the time of the interview approached, hoping she would qualify for something she so much wanted.

Speculating about questions she might be asked, her father suggested one. ”What would you do if one of the girls in the bunk has a melt-down and you have to help her while at the same time having to be responsible for the other children in the bunk?” Obviously somewhat shaken by such a possibility, in typically adolescent fashion she was dismissive of the question, saying this could not possibly happen because a CIT is never left alone with a bunk of children.

Much to her chagrin, she reported after the interview that she had been asked exactly that question. Not wanting to say how she had answered, she nevertheless reported that she would try to have the other girls help comfort the one who was upset. Perhaps she was remembering her own first camp experience having said at the time, that some children missed their parents and needed help in making friends so they wouldn’t be lonely.

The seeming hypothetical question is a challenging one for teachers as well as camp counselors. Of course, at camp there is the added challenge of homesickness, especially for children who might be experiencing their first experience away from home and overnight separations from their parents. Not to mention a changed environment possibly from city to country bringing unusual sounds and creatures.

The impact of peers on an upset child is interesting to note (if you’re not the one who has to deal with the situation.) With very young children a kind of contagion takes place in which one child’s upset infects the others. In a group you can see children one by one trying to control themselves but then breaking down in tears.

I have seen that the teacher, or adult in charge, can defuse the situation before the crying spreads by explaining to the others that the upset child is missing her mommy, everyone misses their mommies sometimes, but that she will feel better soon. Talking about and explaining what is happening in a matter-of-fact way has a reassuring effect and helps children feel that nothing terrible is happening. Trying to ignore the upset has the opposite effect.

On the other hand, one can also see the opposite reaction in which children themselves try to comfort the crying child. I have seen in nursery school groups, children bringing toys over to a crying child to make him feel better or trying to put an arm around the child for comfort. Children are at different stages developmentally in the way they handle separation – when it is safe emotionally to empathize and reassure another or when one’s own feelings are still too close to the surface.

Such upsets in older children may have meanings other than homesickness, especially in a camp situation where peer relationships can loom larger. Alliances between children may form, leading others to feel left out. Insecurities with which children may be struggling can loom larger in an environment that does not feel protective. Feelings may be hurt more easily when children are living together.

Thinking about what it may be like to take the next step from being a camper to a counselor in training, it would seem to have some resemblance to the earlier step of feeling like crying but instead comforting the one who does. Seems like a big step and may explain the “in-training” before counselor.


The strong emotional reaction generated by the separation of parents and children in the service of immigration control points to the value placed in this country on family and on the parent-child relationship. There are few issues that can provoke the outcries and mass protests that have taken place in response to the policies that have been put in place at the borders.

What is telling about this expression of feeling is the contradiction that exists between the desired sanctity to be accorded family relationships in enforcing immigration and the limitations in family support that exist in our own society. Although the sight of children being forcibly separated from their parents is emotionally compelling, the reality is that for many parents here maintaining an intact family is a struggle.

The struggle that exists for many is not only economic in nature. The fact is that the transition from the old model of father at work and mother caring for home and children to the present-day reality of two working parents has not occurred in meaningful ways. The problem of child care has not been resolved on a national level, leaving solutions to be found on an individual basis and raising questions about the care and appropriate supervision needed both by children for their physical well-being and parents for their emotional well-being.

The fragility of supports for family life reverberates for both parents but mothers confront not only present-day reality but the historical, cultural contradiction about both the importance of motherhood and the criticism of actual mothers. The paradox of idealized motherhood and devalued mothers has long existed. From child development experts and earlier feminists, to present day media gurus, women have been told both that being a mother is not as valuable as other pursuits, and that motherhood is so valuable that they are likely to mess it up.

What is actually idealized by all of us, is unconditional mother love – either because we have experienced it, or wish we had, or because we think we would be so much better off if we had. We live in a hurried, pressured, technological world in which intimacy is hard to find. We make unrealistic demands that are often unmet for emotional gratification in relationships. The child in us still thinks mother can and should provide it. As mothers we continue to believe it, demand it of ourselves, and judge ourselves by it – while in reality we have neither the power nor the wish to be the sole gratifier of needs. It is these feelings that leave mothers vulnerable to the criticism and prescriptions of others.

In today’s world, working mothers in particular feel the anxiety and guilt about not being home to care for their children while stay-at-home moms often bring a professional zeal to the job of being the “perfect” mother raising the “perfect” child. Working moms worry that their children may be deprived in significant ways and therefore they go to unrealistic lengths to compensate. Both responses interfere with successful interactions with children.

This is not to equate the inhumane separation of parents and children that has taken place with the conflicts and pressures experienced by parents living in our society. Rather it is to take note of the idealization of parent-child relationships underlying much of the current emotional response. These strong feelings have not been brought to bear to effect much needed change in support of contemporary family life.

It is, in fact, the idealization of motherhood in particular that has been used to prevent the supports needed by dual working parents. The message is – mothers are essential in caring for their children.

Too Hard

It seems as though our entire country has been traumatized by the forcible separation of parents and children at our borders. Mothers and fathers identify with the child’s parents and are overcome by the thought of losing one’s child. Children identify with the child and wonder if this could happen to them. As parents we confront two sets of emotions when we talk to our children about events as traumatic as this one.

Sometimes our own emotions get in the way of recognizing or understanding our children’s emotions. Children are much more aware of what is going on around them than we think they are. Particularly in our media age children are exposed to many more things than we might wish them to be. When we think they are not aware of something, it is often because we would like them not to be – because of our own feeling that it is too difficult, or too painful. We want to spare our children the pain we ourselves are feeling and may think the way to do that is to avoid talking about it.

In this instance, children may experience anxiety at the thought that they, too, might be separated from their parents. As parents, we deal with the additional knowledge of the impact on children who experience this trauma. A mother of three children who has at times cared for foster children, told me of her recent experience caring for a two-year- old who had been separated from her mother.

This child would not let the foster mother approach her, change her diaper or remove her clothes. She screamed and resisted any attempt to get close to her. I asked the mother how she was able to deal with this and she said it was not she but her older children who were successful. They were able to gain the child’s trust and after a few days were able to include the mother in that trust.

This reminded me of the many times I have observed two-year-old’s in nursery groups protesting separation from a parent. A child may become unapproachable by a teacher, refuse to remove a coat or be comforted by the warmest, friendliest teacher. At other times, a child may stop crying and withdraw into unemotional isolation, the lack of protest even of greater concern.

At times we may fear that in the outpouring of publicity our own children’s emotional well-being will be damaged in some way. These worries interfere with our ability to talk to children not only about real things, but more importantly about their feelings and our own. As with many emotional topics, the level of our conversation is determined by the developmental level of the child.

Young children are dealing with feelings about separation in their own lives as they enter school or being entrusted at times to the care of others. They often experience mixed feelings, on one hand wishing for independence, on the other anxious about the loss of dependence if the parent leaves. We may feel able to offer reassurance that current events do not apply to them. However, the feelings engendered by these events do apply to them in smaller measure.

Older children may be more mindful of the political context of much of the public discussion, about which parents may differ. Yet they, too, struggle on another level with the feelings aroused by what is occurring. It is possible to solicit their views while at the same time listening for the feelings that may not be expressed as directly.

It is a child’s ability to bear unpleasant feelings, particularly anxiety, sadness and anger, that will help him better confront many of life’s events. A parent’s willingness to help children recognize their feelings, express them appropriately, and cope with them, is a most important part of achieving such mastery.

I Need/Want It!

Waiting in line ahead of me at the supermarket checkout counter was a mother whose three-year-old girl jumped around checking out the sweets shelves nearby. Finding something that appealed to her she took it off the shelf, showed it to her mother half asking and half putting it with the other purchases. Her mother said, “No,” whereupon a familiar scene ensued with the child begging, pouting, demanding, crying until the mom finally relented and the bag of sweets was purchased.

As children grow, they have more ideas and wishes of their own and a greater ability to assert them. In addition, their own needs and wants are their primary focus. Children feel they really need whatever it is they want – and sometimes behave as if their very life depends on it. It is not surprising that parents get mixed up about what they need and what they want.

A Mom talked to me about the confusion she feels about some of her three-year-old daughter’s requests of her. On the one hand the child seems too demanding, but on the other hand mom thinks that if she weren’t working she would be able to meet those requests. Were her daughter’s requests justified? Was she asking for what she needed or for what she wanted? Partly the Mom feels angry at her daughter asking for things Mom can’t do, and that makes her feel her daughter is “spoiled”. But Mom feel guilty about the fact that she is working, and she worries that maybe her daughter really needs what she is asking for.

This mother is trying to figure out if her child’s requests are legitimate. The implication is that one of them is at fault; either Mom is to blame for not being able to meet the requests, or her child is to blame for asking. Trying to decide if something is a need or a want seems to be part of the process parents go through in responding to their children. It’s as if needing something makes it o.k. but wanting it is not. There is a kind of moral judgment that wanting things is bad.

Children want lots of things. Most of the conflicts between parents and children are over a child wanting something a parent can’t do, doesn’t want to do, or feels it inappropriate or unwise to do. Like the Mom quoted, a parent may at first feel that the requests are acceptable, but then start to feel angry with their children for asking.

There is nothing wrong with children wanting things. There is nothing wrong with not giving a child everything he wants. The problem comes with the parent’s anger and the message that the child is “bad” for wanting. The child then gets angry in turn and lets Mom know she is bad for saying no. That’s when a simple conflict turns into a conflagration.

Sometimes we unwittingly participate in this kind of escalation because it may be easier to just say yes. Nobody likes dealing with a child’s protests – which sometimes come in the wrong place at the wrong time. But what seems like the easier path often turns out to be more difficult in the end. From the child’s point of view, increasing his protests may seem like the way to go. Parent and child end up in a tug of war in which one or the other may feel defeated, but in which no one really wins.

In the conflicts that arise, children are not only seeking to gratify their wishes, but also struggling to be in charge of things over which they have very little control. Understanding that can help us be more sympathetic in our responses. It’s hard not to get what you want. But sometimes it’s hard not to give it. And that’s when we get angry at children for asking.

The Sweet Spot

Parents today who are struggling to find some balance in meeting the demands of work and family, are often confronted with what might be thought of as the worry of the month. Various media diligently report on the latest research that points to some problem arising with children to which parents are contributing.

Recently, there has been much written and discussed about both stress and resilience. On the one hand, the concern is that children are being subjected to too much stress due to limited educational opportunities. This has led to pressure for academic achievement in order to secure the most desirable educational opportunities.

On the other hand, the criticism has been leveled that children these days are lacking in resilience. This has been attributed to the so-called “helicopter” parenting in which parents are accused of being over-protective and trying to protect their children from any kind of stress. Here the cell phone is indicted as the new umbilical cord keeping children tied to their parents.

This is a strange criticism in a society that has resisted providing child care or other supports that would enable working parents to feel confident that their children were safe. Unfortunately, the cell phone has been a major means of reassurance, no matter the downside, that the “kids are alright.”

Supporting the observation that young people are unable to deal with any kind of stress are reports of the demand for “trigger” warnings if material in class readings or discussions may upset certain vulnerable individuals because of race, gender, class or anything else that may be provocative in some way. In other words, it is no longer safe for education to be what we once thought education was – exposure to many ideas.

Richard A. Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College advises parents that the right kind of stress can actually be beneficial, some level of stress promoting resilience. This is particularly important for young people whose brains and bodies are uniquely sensitive to the impact of experience. An example is that of the teacher who knows how to push students without making them so anxious that they give up. Dr. Friedman describes this as finding the sweet spot for stress.

But parents search for that sweet spot in so many areas as their children grow. What is the right amount of freedom to allow their children? How much should they help them with their homework? What movies are appropriate for their children? How about their use of the internet, the telephone? Where do you draw the line as a parent between too much or not enough?

Dr. Friedman goes to research studies involving cortisol and brain scans that demonstrate the results of too much or too little stress. Maybe researchers can pinpoint the “sweet spot” biologically or neurologically that way but that can hardly help parents through the stresses of everyday life with their children.

This calls to mind Linda Fentiman’s book “Blaming Mothers,” and the role that supposedly objective legal constructs play in holding mother’s responsible for their children’s health and well-being. Fentiman points out that the meaning of concepts such as negligence or reasonable person is highly subjective, open to the judgment of the observer. One person’s safe is another person’s dangerous, and if the legal system disagrees it is the mother who is held accountable.

The same is true for stress. Added to the subjective interpretation of parents is the range of children’s vulnerabilities. In the end it depends on knowing one’s own child and reading as best one can that child’s reaction to stressful situations, hoping to find the sweet spot.


In the world of education as in our larger culture, much lip service is paid to a belief in individuality. We are an individualistic society which tends to conflict with our ever-increasing numbers. In over-crowded school settings with large classrooms this means thinking in terms of groups rather than individuals.

Some of the ways children have been organized into groups are obvious, such as by age or gradations of subjects by topic or level of difficulty. Other group distinctions have been made according to intelligence or behavior. Such groups are organized using various methods such as tests or perceptions of behavior by teachers and others. As a consequence, children are given labels that designate the category in which they are placed.

The problem is that these categories often do not address individual differences in children which do not fit the label given. Yet such labeling sets children on certain educational tracks that may or may not be appropriate. Labeling of children that sets them apart from the mainstream is often disturbing to parents who may or may not have experienced with their children the issues identified in school. Diagnostic labels in particular are general and do not always speak to a given child. Parents go to the internet for clarification, which once again does not address a specific child.

A mother spoke to me after receiving a school report about her five-year-old son. She was told that he was extremely bright but was unable to interact with the other children or to follow the teacher’s directions in class. They reported their speculation that he was possibly autistic.

Recently it seems that any behavior in a child that seems atypical in some way is labeled autistic spectrum. The mother’s reaction to this label was not the upset response I expected. She said she understood all about labels and that is not what interests her. What she needs is help in knowing how to deal with her son. The label doesn’t help her or him.

She then spelled out the difficulties she was encountering, particularly in getting him to follow the necessary routines of life. He apparently loves to read and becomes impossible to interrupt saying, “Two more minutes.” The result is he is late for school and her husband finally takes him by taxi. Taking a taxi becomes a reward for his lack of compliance, which does not seem to her like a good thing to do.

I observed this child in an extra-curricular group and the problem he would present in a regular classroom was apparent. Although he removed himself physically from the group, he actually participated from afar in everything they were doing, following the teacher’s lead. He did so, however, in a way that would call attention to himself by the sound of his voice or exaggerated movements. However, when the children were taken by twos to engage in another activity he was constrained, focused on the teacher’s directions and was completely absorbed in the activity.

I well understand this mother’s feeling that a label is not helpful, but what would be? It appeared that this child is overstimulated in a large group but would do very well in a structured group of just a few children. At the same time, the mother needs help in developing strategies for dealing with the boy’s behavioral issues at home.

The problem is that the resources aren’t there to address these kinds of issues in the individualized way needed. We are left with the larger political question of our willingness as a society to allocate the funds required for the help needed by the individual child and family.

Woman’s Work?

In recent years with women in the workplace and the focus on gender equality, there has been much discussion about the need for equality on the home front. This translates as men sharing in the domestic sphere, namely child care, cleaning, cooking among other chores.

At the same time, a familiar complaint is that the bulk of responsibility seems to fall on the woman, not only at home but in the eyes of the world. The school nurse calls the mom if the child is not well, teacher conferences and medical appointments seem to fall on the mother. Even with couples who aspire to a division of labor, women seem to end up with most of the work while men take out the garbage.

Years ago, someone gave me a book called “What Dr. Spock Never Told Us.” One entry was called “Traitor’s Throat,” the definition of which was, “When a baby cries loud enough to wake the father but not the mother.” The current complaint is the opposite.

I was once invited to sit in on a women’s group discussing this issue. Interesting was hearing them regaling their complaints about male incompetence at domestic chores. Typical was, “He said he would wash the bathroom floor – you can imagine what it looked like – had to do it over anyway.”

Having worked with many couples, I have also heard the criticisms leveled at fathers about the nature of their child care. Fathers themselves have told me about their attempts at handling children the way their wives do, the criticism they have received and the feeling of failure this inspires. Easier to just stay out of the way.

Is it possible that women are invested in their superior abilities caring for children and running the household? Having been relegated to that role for so many years and made to feel inadequate at “men’s work,” it would not be surprising if there was an ongoing feeling of pride and an investment in those areas of achievement.

On the other hand, some interesting observations have emerged from studies of same-sex couples solutions to parenting and domestic chores. Older research had concluded that same-sex couples divide up chores more equally, unlike the more familiar division by gender. However, more recent studies have found that when same-sex couples have children they often begin to divide things as heterosexual couples do.

Though the couples are still more equitable, one partner often has higher earnings and one a greater share of household chores and child care. This seems to suggest that this role division is not just about gender. Apparently, work and much of society are still organized for single-earner families. Especially once there are children, the pressure exists for this kind of division of labor.

The circumstances of life that couples face include employers who expect total availability, the absence of paid parental leave and the lack of good, affordable child care. Pressure also comes from the expectations of pediatricians and school personnel that a parent – usually the mother – will be available when called upon.

The point is that society at large has not caught up with the changes in family life brought about by women’s changed role. In part that is due to the nature of the resistance to that changed role. The work place has only gradually added benefits such as paid leave and on-site child care. A segment of the population still believes that a woman’s place is in the home and fights against the social supports needed for a different role.

As the struggle continues for those needed supports, hopefully men will become more competent at “woman’s work.”

Learning From Differences

In his book, “Far From the Tree,” Andrew Solomon points out that the use of the term “reproduction” in regard to having a baby is misleading in suggesting that two people are coming together to reproduce themselves. He thinks this expresses the deep wish that it is ourselves that we would like to see live forever, not someone with a personality of his own. Many of us are unprepared for children who present unfamiliar needs.

Solomon writes that parenthood “abruptly catapults us into a permanent relationship with a stranger”, and the more foreign seeming the stranger, the more negative we are apt to become. During pregnancy we have so many pictures in our mind of who this baby is, often of who we would like her to be. But one of our first tasks as parents is to put aside the imagined baby and now come to know and relate to the real one.

Although Solomon is writing about extreme situations of children falling “far from the tree”, those profoundly different from parental expectations, so much of what he points to has meaning for the more usual experience of parents. Even when we feel our children are not strangers to us, and that we know them well, they often change – or may seem to change – as they move through new developmental stages.

Many times, the feeling of confusion, or even resentment, aroused by a child’s behavior that is not recognized and understood causes an interruption or even a break in a parent/child relationship. Solomon writes that when children are like us they seem like our most precious admirers, but when they differ they can be our worst detractors. Our inability to understand their behavior can leave us feeling incompetent as parents.

Children born with serious deficits often are unable to communicate their needs and wishes in ways that parents can read. Handicapped in their ability to respond appropriately to meet their children’s needs, a failure is created in the parent-child relationship. Handicapped children lead to handicapped parents. This relates to Solomon’s point that “the more foreign seeming the stranger, the more negative we are apt to become.”

Having worked for many years with parents of children who had serious deficits, what stood out was the need to decode children’s atypical means of communication, which often took the form of unacceptable behavior. It became necessary to think more about the context and therefore the meaning of the behavior in order to know how to respond.

In one situation a child whose remoteness led his mother to believe he was completely indifferent to her, would come from the children’s group and stand behind his mother’s chair in another room. To the mother this meant that he was leaving the place he was supposed to be and she would either scold him or ignore him. To the others present it was clear that the child needed his mother and came to her for reassurance. As the mother came to understand this she was able to respond to him in the way he was seeking and he in turn became more outgoing and direct in his communication.

The importance of thinking about the meaning of behavior in responding to our children is something that became very clear working with children whose deficits limited the range of their communication skills. But it is a lesson to be applied in responding to the range of developmental differences in normally developing children.

Solomon wisely writes that we must love our children for themselves, and “not for the best of ourselves in them”. This is often hard to do, but as he says, “loving our children is an exercise for the imagination.”

Ghosts and Monsters

Different kinds of ghosts and monsters frighten our children. Bedtime is a favorite for seeing monsters under the bed, or ghosts in the closet, making going to sleep impossible, and creating a need to have parents stay close by.

Danny Kaye, the comedian/actor had a song called, “Mommy, Gimme a Drink of Water.” Using a child’s voice he acts out all the devices children use to bring a parent back into the room after the final story and goodnight. The drink of water is a favorite, as well as needing to go potty. But being afraid of the ghosts and monsters in the room is a big one, leading the child to call out in a frightened voice.

Parents are sometimes dismissive of fears that seem merely a product of children’s imagination. But children are not comforted by the reassurance that the ghosts and monsters are not there. In her book, “The Magic Years”, Selma Fraiberg gives us insight into the minds of young children, when fantasy is more developed than logic and children believe that their thoughts and behavior make things happen in the outside world. In their magical thinking thoughts, behavior, and feelings are responsible for events around them.

As we know, children often have angry thoughts and wishes about their parents, who can seem frustrating and mean in their eyes. Children misbehave or do things of which their parents don’t approve. If something bad happens they may believe their behavior is responsible. It is not unusual for children to believe that unfortunate events are a punishment for “bad” thoughts or behavior. Children’s separation anxiety can be an expression of the fear that something may happen to the parent or to them unless the parent is close by – even a fear that their own impulses may break loose and wreak havoc.

The ghosts and monsters that children see are stand-ins for their own frightening thoughts, feelings and impulses. They are frightening because in children’s magical thinking they are responsible for the bad things that happen. The struggle with these monsters and ghosts reflect children’s inner struggle with their own forbidden wishes and the untamed impulses that often lead to unacceptable behavior.

A mother of a three-year-old who has a new baby sister told me that she has let the older girl watch cartoons in order to nurse the baby undisturbed. Now the child has suddenly become afraid to go to sleep, saying the cartoon monster is under the bed. It seemed likely that the monster was a stand-in for her own angry feelings about mom nursing the baby, excluding her.

The fight against imagined ghosts and monsters is a psychological battle in which children seek the power of their parents to protect them. It is a struggle in which children fight to overcome the ghosts and monsters or at least hold them at bay. Their fears are real even though the reason they give for the fear may be imaginary. They need the reassurance that they have their parents’ support and will not be alone in their struggle.

In fact, parents are more powerful than the ghosts and monsters. It is with their help and support that children overcome destructive impulses and behavior. It is through an alliance with parents, the wish for their approval, that children are enabled to keep those impulses in check and to adopt parental standards for behavior.

More reassuring than trying to persuade children that there are no ghosts or monsters, is letting them know that their parents, will protect them and keep them safe from all those creatures.