It must be the case that almost every parent in the western world has seen Haley Joel Osment utter the immortal words ‘I see dead people,’ in Hollywood blockbuster The Sixth Sense. Now, as a fairly serious film, it would be unfair to claim that it makes fun of paranormal believers. Yet, it is equally clear that it is not meant to be taken at face value – even if the sight of Bruce Willis panting breathily, in a hospital room, is enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
The question is, what happens if your child appears to see, or interact with, things that seemingly aren’t there? It certainly isn’t a redundant issue, as there are millions of parents all around the world, who claim to have children who can see the spirits of those who have died.
It is a claim supported by paranormal experts themselves, many of who believe that the ‘sixth sense,’ needed to interact with the spirit world, usually develops during childhood. Of course, there are many more who refute this claim – plenty of psychologists and professional debunkers, who point out that there is no real way to differentiate between a ghost and an imaginary friend, particularly in regards to abnormally ‘receptive’ children.
A Sensitive Subject
This is a challenging subject. In some ways, it barely matters whether what a child claims to have seen is a ghost or not, just so long as that child is dealing with their ‘visitation’ well and doesn’t become upset or fixated with a presence that is not human. These days, there is far too much emphasis on debunking, and not enough focus on helping people, no matter what the reality of their troubles.
The concept of ‘real,’ especially is entirely subjective – if a person believes that they have seen a ghost, it is as real to them as the ground on which they stand and the air that they breathe. It can be a very scary thing to experience, and I for one, do not distinguish between fear of the unknown, and fear of the truly unexplainable.
This is precisely why, when it comes to children, the issue is even more sensitive. If you have a child who does interact with things that seemingly aren’t there, or claims to see ghosts, they could have an imaginary friend, or they could be making contact with something that you cannot – either way, your first thought is bound to be for their safety and emotional wellbeing.
In light of this, here is a guide to helping children who claim to see ghosts. It is not designed to be an authoritative opinion on these matters, nor does it purport to know whether or not what your child is seeing is a paranormal entity. It is simply designed to advise parents, who might be worried about what their child claims to be experiencing.
Recognising the Signs
There is no definitive way to distinguish between a child talking to an imaginary friend and a child who believes that they are talking to a spirt. It is often the case that young children aren’t afraid to admit that they have ‘seen a ghost,’ and it is common for this kind of thing to be a product of imagination – after all, very young children usually do not understand what the term ‘ghost’ means.
If a child tells you that they have been talking to another child, or an adult, who could not be in the house, listen carefully. It is common for perceptive children to see things, but not understand that they are different – a lot of the time, children who ‘see’ paranormal phenomena aren’t afraid, because they do not realise the true nature of their experiences.
This is why it is important not to overreact, or allow your own fear to make a child frightened, if they do not already feel threatened. You only have to keep a close eye on him or her, watch out for strange behaviour, and make sure that your child isn’t afraid of spending time in certain rooms, or going to bed alone at night.
The question is, what is a parent to do when a child is disrupted, either mentally or emotionally, by what they claim is a paranormal entity? Whilst there is no absolute answer, there are some steps that you can take to put their mind at ease. The chances are, there is nothing at all to worry about, and your child simply needs some help dealing with an unusual situation.
Providing a Solution
You should ask your child to describe, in detail, what they say, or see, and then gently explain that it is okay, but that their ‘friend’ might be somebody who is visiting them, because he or she has lost their way. You must make it clear that they are in control– if they feel uncomfortable or frightened around their ‘friend,’ they must tell you about it and you will ‘give them a good telling off.’
If there does appear to be a problem, do not panic – calmly inform your child that you will do everything in your power to make it go away, and that they need not be afraid. If there is no reason to believe that they are in danger of physical or mental harm, try to keep to a routine. It is common for kids to use stories about ‘ghosts,’ as a way to sleep with mum and dad, or get out of bed in the night – remember, it is usually the case that children are only afraid, if they are told to be afraid.
As aforementioned, this can be a very sensitive subject, and it is difficult to be honest with parents about the fact there is often nothing to be done for a child who sees spirits, particularly if they are in no physical danger. You can only provide comfort, reassurance and support whenever they need it – as well as making it clear that they are in control of their own thoughts. They do not have to be frightened, because you are always there to deal with naughty ‘friends’ and ‘visitors.’
The first rule of dealing with a child, who claims to see paranormal phenomena, is to prioritise innocence and happiness over all things. If there is a genuine concern, deal with it amongst supportive friends and family members – where possible, discourage fear on behalf of a child.
Image sourced from perceptivechildren.org.