When you’re a small child and the world is a new place loaded with new facts to learn and new worlds to explore, the line between fantasy and reality is a blurry one: after all, without a wealth of experience, how exactly do you understand what’s real? What’s a reasonable thing to be anxious about, and what isn’t?
Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget believed that kids don’t acquire the ability to tell fantasy from reality until around the age of 7. More recent studies demonstrate that kids begin to understand the difference at a younger age, but that this knowledge is acquired in pieces:
“We have found that parents often report that their children believe in the reality of certain fantasy figures, such as the tooth fairy or Santa Claus, until quite late, sometimes even as old as eight or nine years of age. In contrast, many parents report that their children understand that monsters, ghosts, and witches are not real at an earlier age, even prior to the age of five.
“We have also found that between the ages of three and six, children often have rich magical beliefs; for example, they typically think that magic is a real possibility. Only a few years later, by age six or seven, children come to realize that magic involves deception, and that an ordinary person can learn to perform magic. Paul Harris at Oxford University and Jacqueline Woolley at the University of Texas have shown that children as young as three can understand the difference between pretend actions and entities and real ones.”
This uncertainty about what’s real and what isn’t understandably fuels some phobias, some more obvious than others: fear of the dark, in particular, is extremely common, and makes perfect sense given that bedtime is one of the rare times that young children are alone without a parent or caregiver right there. (Plus, obviously, you can’t see what’s lurking in the shadows!) Kids might be afraid of thunder, strangers, being alone, flushing the toilet, going to the doctor, people in mascot costumes, or the neighbor’s dog: these are all totally normal.
The fact that these anxieties are totally normal and healthy doesn’t make them any more easy or fun for kids to deal with, or any more fun for a parent whose child, for example, refuses to go upstairs by himself, as was the case for Musing Momma Ellie’s youngest son. I loved Ellie’s solution: a Monster Whistle! Watch her video below to learn more.