Help us eliminate the invisible bear.
August 21, 2011 7:25 PM   Subscribe

We need inventive ideas and strategies to help eliminate a seemingly invisible bear from our son's room (Slightly <3 yrs old).

Two weeks ago, apparently a bear of some size decided to take an interest in our Son's bedroom. He appears some time in the middle of the night, and our son is pretty terrified of going to bed as a result. On night 3, of Beargate 2011, we contacted the pediatrician who talked us through getting him back in bed.

Well, he'll sleep now, but we have two nightlights and a dog sleeping in his room (ironically named Nanuk, which is Inuit for polar bear) in order to get him to sleep at night. We have used a can of dust-off to spray his room for bears. We have made a large sign over his bead that says "No Bears Allowed In This Room." As of yet though, we haven't been able to eliminate the bear.

What creative methods could we employ to help our son eliminate the eminent threat of this bear attack, and provide him proof that the bear is gone? Note: Ideally your suggested method should also not inadvertently hurt dinosaurs.

At your disposal are an assortment of toys, two dogs, two parents, and a resourceful toddler.
posted by Nanukthedog to Human Relations (58 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: a water gun or squirt bottle that can be used with "special" anti-bear porpellant... also, put a small layer of baby powder on the floor, tell him that if a bear came in, he'd see the bears tracks.... assuming there is no bear, he'll always be able to check for tracks in the night/morning...

and lastly, have a "bear bag" (actual camping term) in an adjoining room or living room that will the "draw" the bear away from his bed... in camping, you'd tie it high up in a tree, but here you can use your imagination...
posted by fozzie33 at 7:31 PM on August 21, 2011 [11 favorites]

Best answer: and yes, my screen name is named after a bear, so i am an expert...
posted by fozzie33 at 7:31 PM on August 21, 2011 [13 favorites]

you can even show him dog tracks vs bear tracks(find them online) so he can tell the difference, and learn about animal tracks
posted by fozzie33 at 7:33 PM on August 21, 2011

I am not a parent or an expert on children.

Perhaps, given the implied interest in dinosaurs, and since dinosaurs can be pretty fearsome, you could set up a brigade of toy dinosaurs to guard the windows and door before your little one goes to sleep? Perhaps you could convince him that no bear would dare tangle with the highly-trained dinosaur team you've set up?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:34 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Come to think of it, perhaps that last bit about not hurting dinosaurs was intended specifically to discourage me from making that suggestion. If so, sorry.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:35 PM on August 21, 2011

Best answer: Empower your son! During the day, practice roaring. Then at night, when he wakes up, he can roar the bear away.

(I did this with a similarly-aged kid. Worked like gangbusters.)
posted by bluedaisy at 7:36 PM on August 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: This is a kid-therapy technique I've used before, but I think it could be converted to an awesome parent-and-kid activity too. Take a big piece of cardboard and cut out a shield shape. Have him decorate and draw his shield, and then he can keep it right next to his bed. The reason I think this kind of thing is a little more effective than nightlights and anti-bear-spray, etc. is that it engages his own agency, and makes him active in the process of defeating the (fear of the) bear.

I love the roaring idea, too, for the same reason!
posted by so_gracefully at 7:39 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you put a tap light next to his bed so that he can smoosh it on when he thinks the bear is entering his room? I'm blind as a bat and still fear things that bump in the night, especially if I can't see anything without my contacts in, so being able to turn on a light to eradicate a "monster" really helps me.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:39 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Was going to go with a bear variant of "monster spray" but I see you have already done that.

Remembering back, it seems that one of my boys had some trouble with the dark. We mostly acknowledged it as a fact and sympathized, promised to protect him and insisted that he was still going to sleep, every night, in his bed.

I know he is pretty small for analysis of the sort that follows but perhaps he can consider what the bear's intentions are ... maybe the bear is there to protect him, be his friend, and is just misunderstood?
posted by bebrave! at 7:39 PM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My shrink mother would no doubt have sat down in my room, at night, and guided me through a conversation with the bear to find out why it was there. And I would have decided that it liked the A/C, and was a friendly bear, and that would probably have been the end of it. YMMV.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:40 PM on August 21, 2011 [36 favorites]

Get a stuffed tiger so he's not alone in this.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 7:40 PM on August 21, 2011 [12 favorites]

I don't have experience with toddlers, so take this for what its worth, but has he told you why he thinks the bear is coming around? I.e., what it is that he thinks the bear wants? Your solution may lie in his answer. (Very sorry if this was your obvious starting point and therefore unhelpful).
posted by vignettist at 7:41 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

*Not-A-Parent-Yet* Why don't you, he and the dog go a-bear-hunting? Catch that sucker, drag him out by his imaginary ear and show him the door! Then have the little guy shut the door and as we all know, bears can't open doors so it's not like he can get back in...
posted by Jubey at 7:41 PM on August 21, 2011

Maybe you can find a (fake) bear claw for your son to wear around his neck to bed. Try a hunting gear store. You can tell him that the bear will think he hunts bears when he sees the bear claw around his neck and run away. What bear will want to go up against a bear hunter, right?

Have you heard of the movie "Brother Bear?" It is an older cartoon film that I think might help your son.

I know it is heart breaking to see your child suddenly frightened over something that you can't make go away easily. Good luck.
posted by Yellow at 7:42 PM on August 21, 2011

Best answer: We had a similar situation with a fox in the house and came to realize that the ceiling light very much did throw a vulpine shadow. Lay down with your son and look for bears.
posted by Morrigan at 7:46 PM on August 21, 2011 [24 favorites]

Any snorers in the house? I've lived with a few who sounded a lot like bears.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:48 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know I would have appreciated a monster snorkel when I was a little'un.
posted by Gator at 7:49 PM on August 21, 2011

Get him a nice nerf sword to take to bed or a nerf pistol or some such. Let him pick the "weapon".

To paraphrase Terry Pratchett "Fairy tales exist not to teach children monsters exist, but that monsters can be beaten." - wish I could remember the exact quote.
posted by wwax at 7:50 PM on August 21, 2011 [10 favorites]

Best answer: If it will help, I will draw your toddler a picture of a dinosaur to scare away the bear. What is his favorite species?

I am totally serious about this, though bear (heh) in mind that the picture will be cartoony. I have been on a major dinosaur drawing kick lately. Proof.
posted by phunniemee at 7:53 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Could Pooh Bear be helpful?
posted by bq at 7:57 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding These Birds of A Feather. I had a fear of ghosts that really destroyed my nights from about his age until 10 or 11, when I started thinking about sex. (Not being silly--it was a serious problem that, to be honest, sometimes recurs to this day.) Being able to turn on the light would have been really helpful. As an obedient kid, though, I knew that turning on the light was Not Allowed. (My mother was, and is, a wonderful mom, but this was both chronologically and socioculturally a few years before with-it parenting; the mod ideas didn't occur to her or me.)

As with Nanuk, I had a dog that I named Marley after Marley's Ghost, my main nemesis. That helped a little, but I was still scared.

Perhaps a teddy bear, as with Casper, the Friendly Ghost?

Glow-in-the-dark stars? Glowing humidifier?

Other than a sweet little teddy bear, though, absolutely NO books, movies, or other mentions of bears or similar. I learned to read early, so Mom was not able to vet my entire reading list, though she really tried. Remember The Magic Bicycle and The Dollhouse Murders? Arrrrgh.

I felt better when I was with my little brother (perhaps an extreme solution) or at a friend's. In fact, unfamiliar surroundings that would have frightened many kids didn't bother me at all.

As a child, my problem with the listed solutions above would have been that ghosts can do whatever they want. That is why a talisman, or hell, an exorcism, wouldn't have worked! The ghost is supernatural, remember?

Calvin and Hobbes has a ton of this material. It may be a little bit above his level, but I have a 3 1/2-year-old neighbor friend who, to my surprise, really liked C&H when I was reading it to his older brother. Maybe you can show him the frames of Calvin's VICTORIES (carefully edited) and add your own explanations? The only problem is that monsters might give him ideas.

It sounds like you're already doing the most important thing--taking it seriously. A present-day child psychologist would probably have said that I was sublimating other worries, but no. I was just terrified of ghosts. I remember it like it was yesterday.
posted by skbw at 7:58 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Not to be a killjoy, because it's very sweet that you're engaging your son in imaginative ways as well as not discounting the validity of his fears, but any cute and quirky ways to fight an imaginative bear will just reinforce its reality. Try to imagine this from your son's perspective: he genuinely thinks this bear is real, and it terrifies him. Remember being very little and believing, REALLY believing, that monsters, ghosts and bogeymen were lurking in the shadows? Your job as a parent is to gently but firmly tell him that the bear doesn't exist. Empathize with his fears, let him tell you what he "sees" when he wakes up at night, but do not get down to his level by pretending the bear is actually in his room. Instead, give him comfort toys to cling to when he gets scared, or a bright nightlight, or leave a light on in the hallway so he can find his way to mom and dad's bed, but please do not equip your son with faux-magical toys that reify the existence of an imaginary bad guy. It seems cute to you to play along with the hunt, but it's serious business to him.
posted by zoomorphic at 7:58 PM on August 21, 2011 [33 favorites]

I used to have "monsters."

We lived in an old, creaky house when I was that age (that my dad later confessed he believed was haunted). However, every night before I went to bed, he did this funny routine where he would yell in my room and confront the monsters. He put on an impressive act, yelling full-voiced and with conviction. He said stuff that I now find hilarious but at the time found very heroic. He told them that he was the Daddy around here, he was in charge, and the monsters better leave me alone and let me get a good night's rest. He was 100% convincing, because after about a week of this routine I slept soundly.

Might work, might not, but for me it's at least a fun story that shows just how understanding my dad was of my reality when I was tiny. That's a great parenting skill, IMHO. I think the way you have phrased this question reflects that you understand that. Maybe a verbal confrontation with said bear will help alleviate Beargate '11.
posted by araisingirl at 8:01 PM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Have you heard of the movie "Brother Bear?" It is an older cartoon film that I think might help your son.

No. No Brother Bear. I have not seen Brother Bear, I don't remember what happens in Brother Bear, but my kids watched it and my then-eight year old had to sleep with me for a couple of nights. "Someonediedandthebearandthebrotherwaaaaaaaaaa." So, check into that first, maybe.
posted by artychoke at 8:02 PM on August 21, 2011

Best answer: Also, my line of thinking is validated by most child psychologists who deal with phobias, night terrors, nightmares and other endemic childhood fears of things that go bump in the night; if you took your soon to a psychologist, his first question for you would be, "Have you been, ah, checking under the bed to ensure there are no monsters? Because that is hurting matters."

Again, it's deeply good of you guys to take him seriously, but the point is to take his emotions seriously, not his (obviously skewed, surreal and illogical) fears that an actual bear is wandering into his room.
posted by zoomorphic at 8:03 PM on August 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Seconding zoomorphic. It's absolutely real to him.

One difference between bears and ghosts, though, is that example bears are easy to find. Although I stand behind no scary stories about bears, is there a baby bear at the zoo you could visit? I don't think it's the season, but maybe if you were able to say, "no, actually, Little Bear is at the zoo with his mom. ALL the bears are at the zoo. They do not live in houses. First they munched on some fish and now they are sleeping!"

If you think a teddy bear (as per bq's Pooh suggestion) might help, or cute bear things, maybe Betty Bear's Birthday. A classic. You could remind him that bears, like Betty, live with other animals (maybe leave the forest out of it), not with people.
posted by skbw at 8:06 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Perhaps the bear keeps coming back because he is lost or is looking for a new home. You could make a bear bed/house/den/nest together, in his room or another room. Perhaps the bear will take a liking to it and in the morning your son will find a new friend hibernating in that cozy spot (hint: go buy a bear).
posted by ellenaim at 8:16 PM on August 21, 2011

Hmm... so it sounds like he's waking regularly at night. Is he waking around the same time every night? My youngest went through a phase of waking around the same time every night. So for a couple of weeks I set her alarm clock to go off and play a new-agey sleep-sounds CD about half an hour before her freak-out time (the same one she was listening to at bedtime). It helped her get over that speed bump of weird sleep and she started sleeping until morning.

You can also try some simple guided meditations and basic relaxation exercises at bedtime. I did this with my oldest, it suited his personality. We used to take a few deep breaths, do some big-muscle clench/release exercises, and then imagine a train, from the engine to the caboose, and all the details about it. It'd get him relaxed and he slept better.

Your post made me think about the kids book We're Going on a Bear Hunt, which our day care has an audio recording of for circle time. The video is available here at YouTube. Might be kind of fun to read together -- or not! :)
posted by hms71 at 8:19 PM on August 21, 2011

scratch that, never mind - he's not waking up, he's having trouble falling asleep...

that'll teach me to post when I'm tired
posted by hms71 at 8:21 PM on August 21, 2011

Best answer: As an environmentalist and not a parent, take my advice with a grain of salt, but what about teaching him more about bears? "Bears live in the woods. People live in houses, but bears live in the woods. Bears need to live in the woods where they can eat berries, pinecones, and fish. You don't have any berry bushes growing in here, do you? No, I didn't think so! :) So it wouldn't be a good place for a bear to live. That's why they live in the forest where they can easily walk to berry bushes and pine trees, just like we live in a city where we can walk to the market. People need to protect the forests so that the bears have lots of places to live. Bears need very large forests (many, many, many times larger than the woods in our backyard) to live in because they like to live deep in the woods, far, far away from people. Black bears are scared of people and run away. Look how fast this one runs away. He's running back to the forest. Want to know something else about bears? Just like you go swimming in the pool, bears like to go swimming in the river. There are no rivers in here are there? No, I didn't think so! :) So I think the bears are sleeping in the woods and you can go to sleep here in your bed."

There are some good bear videos on the National Geographic site. I'd prescreen bear videos to avoid the ones where they get into fights with mountain lions or whatever.
posted by salvia at 8:37 PM on August 21, 2011 [7 favorites]

I am no psychologist, so I cannot vouch for the long term effects of this, but for us it worked perfectly.

When our son complained about monsters in his room at night, I installed an anti monster device in his closet. He happily fell asleep.

Six months later, when he said something about monsters, I said something to the effect that at least the anti monster device was working in our house.

He glared at me and said "I know that's not real." I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
posted by Mr. Justice at 8:44 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, I can't endorse teaching him to kill the bear. I'd teach him that all creatures deserve to have homes of their own, and since humans are the ones who make decisions about the forests, it's our jobs to protect the animals and give them homes. Bears did once roam Massachusetts, but now we have moved in and taken part of the land to live on, and they live in the other parts now. Humans are powerful and could easily kill any animal we wanted to, so it's our responsibility to take care of the other animals. And because we are animals too, who breathe air and drink water, our lives depend on keeping nature healthy. Bears are part of the woods and do an important job, so we have to help them and protect them.

If you're okay with imaginary measures, you could pretend to restore some of his habitat as a temporary measure, as ellenaim suggests, or pretend to relocate the imaginary bear via a trip to the upstate woods.
posted by salvia at 8:55 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

If he insists in believing that there is a bear, you tell him that the bear is only inside to get warm, because she spends all day looking around for her baby bear, who is lost. Then you can ask your son "Is the little baby bear still lost? Oh, poor little baby bear. He just wants his mummy!" Eventually you will guilt the child into ridding his imagination of the mama bear because he wants the baby bear to be found.
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:06 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Even if you think my idea is stupid, I gotta say many of the other ideas are stupider. Don't encourage your son to attack or kill or injure or maim the bear, because then he'll have some fucked up condition where he does violence to things because of irrational fears. As salvia says, teach him that bears and, indeed, all creatures, and in fact even scary monsters, need homes.
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:08 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Absolutely seconding a night light, or giving him the ability to turn on a light so he can see the room properly when he's scared.

Target, IKEA and WalMart all sell small night lights that can be hung on a wall, or plugged directly into an outlet. They provide enough illumination to allow a child to see, without disturbing their sleep. You might also consider something like a push light. They're battery powered and available at Amazon.

We have a sound soother in our kids' room that has a light on top. Between that and the light on the humidifier, their room is never completely dark.

I'd be very wary about reinforcing the fear, by encouraging a kid to fight off an imaginary animal. Would think that it would make things worse.
posted by zarq at 9:21 PM on August 21, 2011

Restless_nomad! I did that with my son and his fear of ghosts as a wee one. Just like with Santa and the Tooth Fairy, I grokked that if I played along with the ghost, little trusting fella that he was, he would believe that I believed there was a ghost in his room. Hence, no looking for the ghost, but there was some very matter-of-fact conversations about ghosts and then with the ghost. Basically my son had a dialogue with his "ghost", and Bob was my mother's brother. No more ghost.
I doubt that would work with a three year old, though. My boy was around five when his ghost plagued him.
posted by msali at 9:23 PM on August 21, 2011

Also, I can't endorse teaching him to kill the bear. I'd teach him that all creatures deserve to have homes of their own, and since humans are the ones who make decisions about the forests, it's our jobs to protect the animals and give them homes.

I love this so much. Wouldn't it be a wonderful outcome to have the kid go from fearing the bear to being the bear's protector? He might need a forest ranger badge so the bear knows he's there to help, though.
posted by secret about box at 9:33 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @zoomorphic: Believe it or not, we've mostly pushed the route of "There is no bear", hence the nightlights and a signs. (We had him draw the bear, and then added the Red Circle with the line through it and the text).

We've gone the route of "The Bear is not real. Where is the bear? Where was the bear? Where did the bear go when I came in here? Bears don't come inside houses. Bears can't use doors. Bears don't have thumbs. Mommy and Daddy love you. You are safe at home. You are safe in your room. You are safe in your bed.

He's been a confident, active, and thoughtful kid his whole (albeit short) life. This is a vast departure on the part of his confidence. We suspect this has a lot to do with being a big brother (his sister is just one month old) and this is at the route a fear of not being an only child anymore is setting roots. We really don't know though were he picked up the "bear" concept. I would have expected it to be a Tyrannosaurus - but no... it is most definitely a Bear.

As for violence, ecology, and the natural order, we generally try to steer him away from violence - he's a toddler and his ability to both process appropriate and applicable use of force is non-existent (especially against an imaginary bear).

As for the lights, we've got a few. Unfortunately tap-lights are out of the question - he's done in several playing with them at his grandparent's house (three pieces of moulded plastic with some springs and a light bulb do not stand up to the safety standards of a very active toddler/preschooler. The lights we have are a giraffe night light, a turtle that turns off after 45 minutes (and is similar to a tap light), and a Coleman electric lantern on the LED setting. (There are also two lamps in his room).
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:41 PM on August 21, 2011

The problem is that you have used the wrong bear repellent spray. Dust off spray is ineffective because it is odorless. How is the bear supposed to know you've sprayed repellent if he can't smell it? You need some of the good stuff, that lingers. That way, if the bear tries to enter to room, he'll smell the repellent and realize that this is a house that is serious about not welcoming bears! In my part of the world, the bears are extremely sensitive to the smell of peppermint - it makes their eyes water and it makes them think of mouthwash, and bears hate mouthwash because it reminds them of dentists, and bears hate dentists because bears don't brush their teeth, so when they go to the dentist they always have cavities. So when they smell peppermint, they run away!

You can put a few drops of peppermint oil into a spray bottle of water and alcohol, and the smell should last long enough for your son to fall asleep. As for proof that the bear is gone for good - show your son a crudely lettered sign, obviously in a bear's handwriting, that has been posted to your front door, which says "To my bear friends who may be searching for honey - STAY AWAY FROM THIS HOUSE! IT HAS DENTISTS! (I'm not kidding! I could smell them!)"
Then emphasize to your son that dentists are only scary to bears because bears don't brush their teeth, and they know the dentist will be mad at them.
posted by MexicanYenta at 9:47 PM on August 21, 2011 [9 favorites]

Is it possible that he somehow knows there is no bear but has very real middle-of-the-night fears about losing his parents to the new baby? Sort of waking nightmares about loss and abandonment?

(Sounds like you are doing a great job, tho. We've got a new baby and a preschooler, so that's why I'm thinking this.)
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:04 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't know if you're open to this, but when my kids go through phases like this, I sometimes just lie down in bed with them (having explained I will stay till they are asleep, so they are not terrified if they wake and I'm gone) or I sit on the edge of the bed or I let them crawl into bed with me when they wake up. If it's especially tricky, I will let them sleep in my bed or on the sofa (if I'm in the living room). My kids sleep in their own beds 99% of the time and I find that, sometimes, if I just listen to their fears and recognize their need to be safe and close to their parents, it helps a lot. I'm talking about when they are seriously very scared and not just when they are delaying going to sleep or something like that - and I do first try all the self reliance tactics with them, as I want them to grow up to have some ability to manage their emotions. But a 3yo is still very little and, even just several decades ago, they wouldn't be sleeping in their own bed, let alone their own room. Sometimes, kids just need a little extra closeness to help them manage something bigger that they're working on and the "bear" is just the way their brain makes sense of it. I have not found that occasionally conceding to my children's needs prevents them from otherwise sleeping soundly in their own beds.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:09 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm just saying, not being able to sleep out of fear that your parents won't be there for you any more now that there's a new baby, is so hard to put into words. So I'm scared of...a bear! Yes! And my parents responded to my fear of bears by comforting me, which us what I really wanted anyway. So when I need comfort and reassurance, maybe I need to tell them about the bear again.

Forgive me if I'm way off base. I wasn't there. Just a thought.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:11 PM on August 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

How about painting the room with bear repellent? A fresh coat of paint can acquaint one with all corners of the room, cement ownership of a place, and help you discover just where all the openings in the room are. As a bonus, it's a fun project that will involve time spent together and him really taking control of his life (he can choose the color, and his room becomes even more his territory).
posted by amtho at 10:15 PM on August 21, 2011

My son at about the same age had a troublesome monster infestation. The solution was the garlic press - a wondrous machine, really, and one with which he was already fascinated. Monsters, we said, and probably night bears, really dislike garlic. They hate it so much that just the sound of the garlic press sends them right away! It shoots invisible garlic lasers! Just aim the square part at the monster and work the handle!

It worked. Who knew? So he slept with the garlic press - empty - for months and sometimes we'd wake up at night to the sound of the garlic press industriously shooting away. By the time he was four, the garlic press and the monsters were gone.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:17 PM on August 21, 2011

I really think zoomorphic has it here.

Giving him a magic token was certainly worth a try. If he'd believed in it, problem solved. But you've tried several now, and he just doesn't believe that Mom and Dad can give him a magic anti-bear token. Trying more doesn't seem likely to help.

I'm not sure the existing tokens are giving the right stimulus. Having a large sign over his bed saying "No Bears Allowed In This Room" means every time he looks up, he's reminded of bears. It's not that much different to having a sign saying "Be Afraid of the Bear".

Also it's worth thinking carefully about what kind of reinforcement you're giving. Let's suppose that subconsciously he resents the attention his one-month-old sister is getting, and is seeking more attention from you. If so, by giving him elaborate, inventive, creative anti-bear solutions you're giving him positive reinforcement. You're rewarding him for being afraid of the bear with attention.

That's not to say you shouldn't comfort him. But you might want to comfort him in a boring, routine way that's the same every night; rather than seeking out interesting new ways to comfort him.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:17 AM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I appreciate what zoomorphic is saying about not humoring fears, but I think it is off base for this age group. We're talking about a child of ~3. At this age, they believe in the tooth fairy and Santa Clause. My youngest vociferously defended the concept of the tooth fairy when he was 4, even insisting he had seen fluttering wings and heard a tinkling noise outside his window; at 5 he matter-of-factly said he didn't believe it any more because the house alarm would have gone off if a fairy tried to get in the house!

So, this is what worked for me with said younger son in a similar situation to yours, OP. Thanks to his older brother, he developed a fear of werewolves around Halloween. We tried comforting and soothing and assuring him that werewolves didn't exist. We even reminded him about the house alarm (but he felt that a werewolf could bite through the wires!).

So, seeing the logic he was using at the time, I sat down with him and we talked it through. He knew werewolves came out at the full moon because that's what his brother told him. He didn't really understand full moons, so he figured that meant they came out at night. So before he went to bed, I played, believe it or not, Werewolves of London on a CD we had. He knew London was far away because his Dad and I had gone there once. He felt better knowing the werewolves were in London, but what if they left and came to our house in the middle of the night? I explained that even on a plane, it was more than an 8-hour flight from our home. But wolves couldn't buy tickets to get on a plane! So the werewolves would have to find another way to travel, and that would take days. Therefore, there was no way the werewolves could even get to our state before morning, when the full moon would be gone.

it was like a light bulb went off. Knowing that the werewolves could not show up before morning meant he could sleep perfectly all night long. And after that, he wasn't afraid of them any more. It just took the one night to make him feel in control.

In your case, you have something real, a bear. I'm wondering where the bear came from. When the baby wakes up and cries, does she sound like a bear? Do you sound like a bear when you are getting up to feed her? Did he wake up and see a shadow of one of you holding the baby, or stretching and yawning, and think that was a bear?

Anyway, what does your son know about bears? Most very young kids believe that bears like honey and that they hibernate in winter. That's their perception at that age. If it were winter time, you could just explain that all the bears have gone to hibernate and so they won't be around to bother him any more. Since it isn't winter, I'm thinking that you might leave honey outside for the bear. The bear is probably just hungry. It will fill up on honey and, satisfied, go away again.
posted by misha at 1:46 AM on August 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The Bear Under the Stairs is a wonderful and cute book which addresses this very problem - the bear turns out to be a fur coat and the distinction is made between the mistaken object and the imaginary bear the little boy has concocted. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 4:17 AM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

What about -when you hike in bear country, you're supposed to wear bells? (I am not nature girl here, sorry). Maybe he needs a few little jingle bells to scare off the bear?
posted by lemniskate at 5:45 AM on August 22, 2011

I don't know much about kids. Is he too young to absorb some of the many stories and videos about bears climbing trees to escape house cats or chihuahuas?

"See, the bear is scared of things, too! Maybe he's looking for a safe place to hide from a kitty."
posted by motsque at 5:58 AM on August 22, 2011

We had an undistinguished "monster" in the closet. After a few nights of different unsuccessful methods, eventually I assured my daughters that the monster was scary on purpose because he's there to protect their dreams. If the monster is not scary, he's not strong enough. At first they accepted him on neutral but cautious terms. Later, the monster was accepted as a friend.

Later, I found a mixture of water, chalk, and AA batteries in a bowl in the closet. The oldest decided to feed the monster. I was just relieved chalk was one of the ingredients - the battery had begun leaking by the time I found the concoction. I assured the girls that the monster was well fed on nightmares and didn't need extra treats (but if he did, come to mom for recipes).

When we moved to another home, the young girls cried, afraid to leave him behind. We made sure to leave our new address in the closet for the monster.
posted by _paegan_ at 6:46 AM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Ahh, so he's a new big brother! That is an essential fact.

He's probably experiencing some major, albeit typical, regression right now. Toddlers go through crucial psychological changes when a new sibling comes to the house, and often subconsciously compete with the tiny helpless newborn that has suddenly consumed a lot of mom and dad's attention. Sometimes this goes on during the latter stages of pregnancy, sometimes it only starts happening baby #2 comes home. Other signs of adjustment to new sibling: more frequent meltdowns, insistence on using baby's pacifier/bottle/diapers, toilet training accidents, waking up at night crying for parents. Night terrors/nightmares/fear of the dark are common for all 3 year olds, but especially in 3 year olds who have a new sibling.

I'm standing by my original suggestion to absolutely not engage your son's terror by discussing the bear as if it were real. It'll take a while for him to latch on to this reassurance, but this has more to do with adjusting to the new baby than with the efficacy of not indulging in his fears. Don't use logic, ie, "but you can't see the bear"/"bears can't get into our house"/"bears don't even live in our state" etc. Turning on the lights and pointing out that you, the adult, cannot see the bear doesn't really reassure him that the bear doesn't come back when the lights are out and the adults are away. Take down the sign over his bead about bears, get rid of the bear spray. The nightlight and the dog are good, though.

Then say something like: "Wow, it must really scare you when you think you see a bear in the dark, so we're taking down this sign about bears. The bear was never there. When you wake up at night and think you see a bear, remember that we're in the next room over. Remember that the only animal in the house is Nanuk. One day when your sister gets scared of bears, you can tell her, 'Baby Sister, there are NO BEARS IN THE HOUSE.' "
posted by zoomorphic at 7:04 AM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

We had a similar situation with monsters, instead of bears. What I did is get a small spray bottle (like that used for cosmetics or room sprays...a perfume atomizer would work too), which I filled mostly with water, then added a couple of drops of lavender essential oil and a little perfumer's alcohol (vodka works too...but not consumer grade isopropyl rubbing alcohol). Then I made a "Monster Spray" label, that looked and read like one of my product labels, only with monsters, and guarantees that the spray would rid the room of any and all monsters.

(I even had boy make a small watercolor monster, that I then spritzed with the spray to make the monster "melt" to prove the effectiveness of said Monster Spray.)

It worked a treat, and it gave him the agency of getting rid of his monsters, since he could spray the room before bed, or any time he thought Monsters might be trying to get in.

As he got older, he became more like _paegan_'s daughters; he welcomed the idea of monsters, and added it to his pantheon of imaginary characters.
posted by dejah420 at 7:19 AM on August 22, 2011

I had night terrors and an invisble monkey at around that age - this thread shows the advice I was given, what we did and what worked for us. Hope some ideas help. Changing her sleeping pattern was key, a full reset by staying over at gramps summer house with her cousins cured her night terrors at once.
posted by dabitch at 7:32 AM on August 22, 2011

Does your wee one have a bear suit? I daresay that I would feel most comfortable around bears if they didn't know I wasn't one of them. After all, bears don't hurt each other. They only eat little boys and documentary film makers. Bear costume pajamas might be too warm for this season depending on where you live, but that would be one approach to consider.

I also suspect that sleeping in a fortress should alleviate any concerns about bears. It is a well-documented fact that bears cannot climb castle walls and historians all agree that there have not been any bears spotted in castles around the world since the Trojan Bear incident of ancient Troy.
posted by jph at 8:46 AM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

jph, that is one groovy fortress, but the ghosts would have been all over it! Maybe by 40 I can enjoy sleeping there.

It looks pretty bear-unfriendly, though, that's for sure.
posted by skbw at 9:38 AM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was that age, I accidentally watched Cujo on TV and was absolutely terrified of a rabid dog coming to kill me in my sleep. My mom gave me a bracelet to hang on the door and said it was sprayed with special dog repellent, which naturally I couldn't smell because dogs have much better noses than me. That bracelet hung on the door for weeks, then made its way into a jewelry box in my room, mostly forgotten. The only emotional scar from the situation was how she laughed when I brought it up again years later, when we got a dog and I was afraid the bracelet would scare it off, rather than just tossing it like I asked and letting me figure it out on my own.
posted by lilac girl at 10:18 AM on August 22, 2011

Do you read to him before he goes to bed? Maybe it's time to start if you don't, or change the group of stories that he's used to. (If you want to get him to like bears, you could always try Berenstain Bears). But some interesting stories that can occupy his mind while he lays in bed can keep bears off his mind. If he's not listening to music to fall sleep, may I suggest Chopin's nocturnes or something from Lullatone?

(felt like, with my username, I HAD to contribute)
posted by sleeping bear at 12:16 PM on August 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

videos about bears climbing trees to escape house cats or chihuahuas?

Black bears are scared of people and run away. Look how fast this one runs away.

"Look, bears are unbelievably fast and cannot be stopped by walls! Well, good night!"

posted by foursentences at 3:35 PM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

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