I can still remember the safety I felt when I would crawl into bed with my parents. I’m not sure that there was a safer place in the world.
When I was little, the monsters at night were in my closet and my drawers. I checked them a lot. Yet, now that I’m a parent, when it’s bedtime for my kids, and when I’m tired and I have my own agenda, I sometimes forget about those monsters or those shadows, noises, and thoughts that became larger than life when my parents turned out the lights. I’m guessing that I’m not the only parent in the world who used to have these fears.
So, where do these nighttime fears come from?
A Story of Evolutionary Mismatch
The monsters under the bed are real
by Peter Gray
Infants and young children in our culture regularly protest going to bed. They make all sorts of excuses. They say they are not tired, when in fact they obviously are tired. They say they are hungry, or thirsty, or need to hear a story (and then one more story)–anything to stall. They talk about being afraid of the dark, or afraid of monsters in the closet or under the bad. Little babies without language, who can’t yet describe their fears or try to negotiate, just scream.
Why all this protest? Many years ago, the famous behavioral psychologist John B. Watson argued, essentially, that such behavior is pathological and derives from parents’ overindulgence and spoiling of children. Remnants of that view still persist in books on baby care, where the typical advice is that parents must be firm about bedtime and not give in. This, the experts say, is a battle of wills, and you, as parent, must win it to avoid spoiling your child.
But clearly something is missing in this explanation from the experts. Why do infants and young children choose to challenge their parents’ will on this particular issue? They don’t protest against toys, or sunlight, or hugs (well, usually not). Why do they protest going to bed, when sleep is clearly good for them and they need it?