They See Dead People
The flood of online posts by parents telling of their children’s experiences with the supernatural suggests today’s kids are seeing dead people in huge numbers.
If your daughter says she’s scared because of the spooky figure prowling her bedroom at night, it may be a ploy to sneak into bed with you. Or it may herald years of night terrors and bedtime trauma.
How do we distinguish between paranormal intuitions and the sometimes overactive imaginations of our little ones? Importantly, how do you handle the topic when your child believes they’re seeing or hearing ghosts?
What kind of ghosts do children see?
Children see all sorts of ghosts. Some common apparitions include:
- A friendly child – a play companion.
- Dead relatives – like the two-year-old who saw grandma in the sky minutes before her grandmother’s death.
- Animals or dead pets – in the infamous Amityville Horror case, five-year-old Missy saw a red-eyed pig she called Jodie.
- A benevolent guiding spirit or angel – for instance, apparitions of the Virgin Mary have been seen by children across the world, from Mexico to Ireland and France.
- Many children hear strange creepy night whispers and catch shadowy glimpses or see unexplained lights.
- Figures from lore and legend, such as a headless man, a lady in a white dress, or Slenderman, the creepy online ghoul.
- Disturbing older figures – in the infamous Enfield Poltergeist case. Janet Hodgson, an 11-year-old girl, was possessed by the spirit of an old man named Bill Wilkins. Besides seeing moving objects, she spoke eerily in his deep voice.
- A little boy or girl – sometimes upset or angry, sometimes playful; occasionally, kids describe their visitor as wearing pyjamas or playing with their toys.
Many ghost sightings may be the result of children’s fertile imaginations. Combine that with powerful suggestive influences from religion, pop culture, the media and spooky legend. That said, if your child reports a spiritual encounter, the key grown-up lesson is not to ridicule or dismiss them.
So-called ghost or an imaginary friend?
Charles Fernyhough, a psychologist at Durham University, says, “between a third and two-thirds of children have imaginary companions”. According to the Washington Post, there was a time when imaginary friends may have indicated mental illness. Now, the phenomenon is considered a positive sign of healthy child development.
When your child claims that a kid is playing at the bottom of the garden, it’s possible this (unseen) presence is an imaginary friend. If they are comfortable with the other child, there is no major cause for alarm.
Understanding Why Your Child Sees Ghosts
It’s important to try and understand the visions from your child’s perspective.
Listen to your child
Jacqueline Woolley is a professor whose work explores children’s ability to tell real from fantasy. She says that children raised in homes where the supernatural is openly discussed are more likely to see ghosts. Kids raised among spook sceptics are less likely to have ghostly encounters.
Whether you are a sceptic or not, validate your child’s feelings and experiences. Don’t ridicule or dismiss what they see or hear. Let them know it’s okay to feel scared or confused and that you are there to support them.
Ask open-ended questions
Encourage your child to share more about their experiences. Gently probe with open-ended questions, like “Can you tell me more about what you see?”; “Why is the little girl crying? Did she tell you?” or “When do you usually see these things?”. These questions can clue you to possible suggestive influences.
A child’s fertile imagination can lead to wonderful flights of fantasy and sometimes down a terrifying rabbit hole.
Help your child understand the power of imagination. Explain that our minds can sometimes create vivid images or ideas, and that it’s okay to have a strong imagination.
Explore other explanations
Gently explore other possible explanations for what they are experiencing. It could be related to dreams about ghosts, shadows, stress and anxiety, or a Halloween incident. Consider books they might be reading, online exposure or spooky chatter at school.
Handling Fear And Anxiety
Suppose your child reports a friendly spirit in their bedroom. In that case, it’s less troubling than if a scary ghost or malevolent force is terrorizing them. Either way, it’s important to be honest with them in your discussions.
Talk about spiritual phenomena
If you haven’t already had the conversation, explain to your child what ghosts are, why ghosts exist and why they might appear. If you are a sceptic, explain that some people see ghosts and some people don’t. It is best not to tell them that what they see is something else, such as a friendly animal or the tooth fairy. This can cause more confusion or mistrust.
If your child has been exposed to, or might be exposed to, ghost summoning practices like Ouija boards, it’s important to minimize their exposure. Avoid exposing them to scary stories, television shows, or online content that could trigger fear or distress.
Help them cope with anxiety
Depending on your child’s age, there are plenty of tools that may help them deal with fear and anxiety:
- Comfort objects such as a stuffed animal
- A night light
- A prayer or ritual to help them feel protected (before bedtime or whenever they experience the apparition)
- Breathing techniques and positive affirmations
Maintain a routine
Kids’ fears and paranormal visits often happen after dark. It’s good to establish a regular bedtime routine, as structure provides a sense of security.
Involve a trusted adult
Keep an open mind and reassure your child that you are there to help to support them. If necessary, you may want to involve another trusted adult, such as a teacher. Or a trusted older sibling or family friend. This person can offer additional perspectives, support and reassurance.
If your child’s experiences are causing major distress and affecting their daily life and health, it might be helpful to consult a mental health professional or counsellor for further guidance.
What are some famous cases of children seeing ghosts?
The Enfield Poltergeist case, the Borley Rectory case, the Amityville Horror and the Conjuring House are some notorious cases where young children experienced ghosts and paranormal activities.
Is it common for children to have imaginary friends?
Many children, with some estimates over 50%, have imaginary friends. If the imaginary presence isn’t harmful, the companion can be a healthy part of the child’s development.
There is a widespread belief that children’s purity and innocence make them more attuned to the spirit world. Many believe that kids have a natural ability to perceive the supernatural. More so if they have past lives or a strong intuition. Others feel that kids are just imagining things or being influenced by media or culture.
Whether you are a ghost hunter or not, the most important thing is to listen to your child and validate their feelings. Try to understand and provide the tools and support to help them cope. This may sometimes include seeking professional help.