A new study may help explain why some kids report seeing imaginary monsters in real life.
It involved 80 children between four and six who experienced severe nighttime fears and compared them to 32 children who did not. The researchers assessed the children's fears, using reports from both the kids and their parents. Children viewed images of imaginary figures (such as fairies or Bob the Builder) and were asked whether they could occur in real life, for example, could they go visit a fairy in person. The study found that children with nighttime fears demonstrated more fantasy-reality confusion than the control group (those without fears) and those fears were more dramatic in the younger children.
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The more children understood the difference between fantasy and reality, the less fearful they were.
The study also found "that children with nighttime fears suffer from higher levels of general fears and more behavior problems... thus suggesting that nighttime fears may reflect a broader vulnerability to general fears, anxiety and internalizing disorders" and that "a less developed ability to distinguish fantasy from reality may contribute to the emergence and persistence of children's fears... . Children's uncertainty regarding the existence of magical entities such as witches, ghosts and monsters may generate and maintain fears of these creatures."