Haunted House: What do you tell the children?

This is a hairy and upsetting question. If I have a house call and I know the people have children, I request that they have the spouse take the children out while I’m there. There’s no need to bring children into an investigation and interview them.

With the recent onslaught of popularity in ghost hunting by every Joe and Jane on the street, there have been some very questionable methods. I’ve heard of some teams using children as bait for activity. It makes my stomach turn.

If strange occurrences happen around the house, it should be a lot like your sex life. You don’t sit down at the table and start talking about your bedroom antics in front of the children, nor should you be talking about strange unexplained noises and sights, fears and concerns. There are times and places and age-appropriate circumstances for handling the paranormal in your own home.

We begin with the first concern; have the children unprompted approached the parents with issues?

The explanation of the paranormal to a small child will fall on deaf ears. Children under 6 really have no concept of death and spirits, ghosts and the paranormal. They don’t even have a basis for physics to understand if these things are possible or impossible. A door slamming itself to a small child could be a normal part of the natural world. Instead of explaining an invisible entity might have done it, give the child a way to stop the "silly door" from closing when he doesn't want it closed by showing him how to prop a chair in front of it. “Bad door! Don’t do that again!” (scold)

Children a bit older, perhaps 6-10 are likely to be very inquisitive about strange things happening around the house. They check the hall when they hear footsteps but there’s no one in sight. This is the peak of the “monster” age where things are explained make-believe creatures and nighttime monsters. You can have a “monster” case of afraid-to-go-to-bed-alone syndrome if you don’t handle this well.

Every situation is different. If a child mentions something strange once, be sure and listen carefully. It’s important they know you’re giving what they say true consideration. Then, it’s a good idea to break it down into a list of explanations for what it could be. Let the child help you list some of the reasons. “We left a window open,” “the house was cooling off after a warm day,” “Susie is playing tricks on you,” et cetera. Listen to the explanations your child comes up with. You will find out the way he explains things to himself and the things that go on inside his head. Does your child bring up the “G” word? If not, good.

If it does occur to the child that the house might have a ghost, ask the child if he believes in ghosts. A child who believes in ghosts (like children who believe in monsters) are not going to believe you if you say there are no such things. Instead, ask why a ghost might haunt a house. Explain that your house has none of the factors that would make it haunted. It would, in fact, be one of the last places a ghost would want to visit, as it's too warm, or too bright, or too new, or too happy. Bring the explanations back to the real world. You can even make an experiment. One child with a noisy closet “ghost,” I suggested remove everything from her closet. My idea was prove that the overstuffed closet had items shifting around because it’s a mess. When the closet was empty, it was quiet. When she re-packed her closet, she removed a lot of things and hung things up, making it neat and clean. No more sounds. I helped the child to bring her explanation away from the notion of a ghost to the very real-world explanation of a messy nook.

Some parents like to incorporate their religious beliefs at this time. If the child is bringing up the ghost word and you cannot convince him you have a happy new house that isn’t haunted, you might explain that heaven has a place for everyone and no one wanders around the earth. Explain that people like the idea of ghosts because it sounds like a fun idea to have those who passed on nearby, but there is no such thing. Reinforce it once again with real-world explanations for the occurrences.

The fact is that ghosts are something a parent or parents should be dealing with, not the children. Never appear scared or afraid to go into the basement or any other situation that your child might witness. Do not talk about ghosts with other family members in the child’s presence. Keep everything in the “world that exists here and now” realm. If the house is kind of dark or cluttered, light it up, straighten it. Make it feel as if there’s nothing lurking.

If the house tends to get noisy at night, you can mask it with a fan in the child’s room or you can simply sit down one evening with the child and ask “what is it you hear at night?” Then, make the sounds of the house at night a kind of symphony. Sit together in the hallways and listen. Name each sound “there’s the bell,” “there’s the high hat,” “there’s the harp.” Have the child tell you which instrument he’s hearing. Laugh with him. Recreate sounds by stomping on floorboards, swinging doors open and closed and work with him to come up with new instrument names for the sounds you produce. It can be your inside joke. Whenever you two hear a sound, you can say "is that the high hat or the bell?"

A child’s world is a truly magical place. Work to maintain that. These skills will help your child as he grows, as well, because he will look for real-world reasons for the unexplained and 98% of the time, they will be real-world reasons.


  1. I'm weighing in - I think this is great advice to raise happy and secure kids without making them feel ashamed of their curiousity. Great post.

  2. Hey Heather;
    Thanks. I take your opinion highly.

  3. Lovely, Autumn. I See(r) no reason my(s)elf to draw younguns into the mix, either. As you've opined, 98% of the time hauntings usually have a pragmatic answer, although I enjoyed your phrasing better 'an mine! LOL!

    You, as a ghost-hunter, MUST be familiar with the case of Stambovsky vs Ackley, right? It was alleged that the buyer, Stambovsky, wanted to back out of purchasing the house located @ 1 La Veda Place, still painted a fantastical 18th century Ashes of Roses colour to this day, from the Ackley family, due to its ghostly tenants.

    Because of this, there is now a law on the books, yes, a law, called Ex Ghost Facto, that stresses how imperative it is that a seller inform his or her potential buyers that the property in point is haunted, if, in fact, it is!

    One of my best buds, Epona, and I went to take a look at the Ackley house. It's right on the hudson River in Nyack in Rockland County NY, on a dead end street no less. cheerful & odd with its onion turret, I have some outside pics, but as we knew nobody who lived there, we declined from imposing our(s)elves on the then current occupants. Maybe some other time.

    Always a softie for a good haunt,
    Anadæ Effro (•8-D

  4. Anadae;
    I have to admit that in 1977 when we sold Aspen Grove, my friends and I hid in the crawlspace in the basement and pounded the heel of a boot against the ceiling to scare the people looking at the house. I didn't want to move at all. We tried making ghostly sounds and all. The place, however, was so famous (or infamous) that no one ever looked at it who didn't know about the ghosts that came with it and most were completely charmed by the notion. The people who moved in after us had a great deal of trouble in the settling in period, but then the house eventually got used to them. I'd love to see a picture of that house. Sounds beautiful.

  5. You mischievous little imp, you! LOL! Here's a link to a pic of the Ackley house, 'til I submit mine …

  6. I cannot entirely agree with this post. While I do believe there is no reason to scare a child with the idea of ghosts if he or she has not thought of this themselves I do believe children deserve educated answers if they do ask about ghosts. This does not mean that you need to frighten them. Perhaps watch a movie like Casper with them and explain that ghosts do not have to be scary. If you genuinely think your house is haunted you shouldn't lie to a child who brings this concept up in conversation. I do agree however that it is important to not appear frightened of spirits in front of your child.

    When I was a child I used to see spirits even before I was 6 years old. I did not understand what they were exactly but we lived on a road with a cemetery and I knew they were there. I also would see them sitting in chairs in other people's houses. When I would talk to them my parents said I had imaginary friends and I accepted that explanation until I was about 11. At that point I became extremely angry that my parents would lie to me. While I may not have had a complete understanding of death as a child I was able to understand enough to understand what a ghost was had someone chosen to explain it to me.

  7. Panademona;
    Yes, it is completely a case-by-case task. In my case, I knew strange things happened in our house but having grown up there since I was a toddler, I thought all houses did it. When I was about 8, my siblings started throwing around the ghost word all over the place. My parents then realized that they couldn't make them stop believing in ghosts, but they could help them put it in a context. That's when they presented the ghosts to as guardians of the house, soldiers who died and had no family nearby and walked the halls to guard us. This post was mostly about how to deal with younger children. Unless a child is precocious or brings up the "g" word with you, there is no need to put the notion in his head. As a parent, it's always best to ask the questoins as I suggested and let the child bring forth their own concerns. If they don't bring up the "g" word, there's no need to start using it. I did have potent psychic abilities and sensitivities but I'm glad that my parents presented it to me as just a talent like running fast or being good with numbers. It never made me feel strange or different or weird. They promoted my search for knowledge and reminded me to make decisions with what I know to be true at that time given my knowledge and experience. I think being age appropriate is crucial. There will be at times older siblings who bring up ghosts and once they enter the heads of the little ones, you can't take it back. What you can do is change the meaning of what a ghost and a haunting mean from something unknown and scary to something simply matter of fact and not sinister in nature. Every parent will know their child best. Directing a positive attitude about strange occurrences, encouraging curiosity, and being ready to answer questions is all helpful, but it's a lot like the sex talk. You don't start talking to your 6 year old about birth control methods and orgasms, so you take it in bits and bits, age appropriate, and considering their level of maturity. Thanks so much for your input. Your situation, like many others, will differ from the situations I've spoken about.

  8. Veru good advise. I will take them seriously.
    Great thinker!!

  9. Hey Chib;
    I always say that commonsense prevails. Hope your day is going well. :-)

  10. You know...I didn't realize it until you wrote this post (or I finally got here to read it) that my dad never did "acknowledge" our openly haunted house. Always seemed to meet anything said with one angry word BS.

    However, he, along with his mother were well known (quietly just in the family) to see the future...only it was never called that... just "let me tell you what's going to happen" then it did. I also was prone to this when I was younger, but mother beat it right out of me.

  11. @eloh;
    Yeah, the worst thing is to act like it's poppycock. Once the kids have brought up the "G" word, you have to acknowledge it and help to calm their nerves about it by bringing in some logical evaluation of the situation and the actual threat. I understand parents not wanting their kids to carry on the "talents." It's a shame, because they really are talents like running fast of singing well, but our parents weren't of an age to appreciate their skills or want to see them in their kids. It is possible to reactivate that latent ability again. I'd start by online psychic testing daily just to get that muscle working again. I go to www.gotpsi.org

  12. My thing was strictly limited to death. I still have it, I just don't know the details anymore. I just "know" it is about to happen to someone I know.

    The only "trance" I even know about is what brought on mother's wrath.

    I evidentially came down stairs, walked to their bedroom picked my way over to her side of the bed and woke her up to tell her her father had died. She slapped the crap out of me... which served to wake me up... later that morning we got the call that her dad had died.

  13. @eloh;
    That's a pretty amazing ability. To have that connection with another human being where you know what happens to them is something that occurs between twins, but in truly empathic people, once they make a connection with someone, they know when they call on the phone, they know when they're sick, they know all kinds of monumental things that happen to them. You knew then that it was your father. But, you say you feel that now--but you haven't pinpointed just who. That tells me it's someone who isn't probably close to you day-to-day. Check your dreams. They often show up there, especially seeming strange if you haven't dreamed about them recently.

  14. No, When I was younger, I would know all the details, who, when and how. I would see it all in my mind as if I was standing next to them. It didn't have to be someone I was close to, just knew or even knew of.

    After my teenage years... I just know death is coming for someone around me.

    Weird huh.

  15. @eloh;
    I wonder if you can redevelop the ability to know more details about who? The best way I can think of is to flip through a list of names or photos until something "sticks." I remember one day my son said, "I think the next celebrity to die will be Billy Mays." I thought that was a weird choice. The next day, Billy Mays had died. I can usually tell if someone doesn't have a future. It's a creepy thing, but I can see a picture of them and know that there won't be pictures of them when they're older. I just don't see a future for them. Kind of creepy, but I think it just makes me treat everyone as if they might be gone tomorrow. There's some advantages to that knowledge. Perhaps it's time to check in with loved ones again, just in case.

  16. Very good advice. I especially like how you emphasized pointing to real answers to unexplained noises etc. It is good for children to see there is a nonsupernatural explanation for what they are afraid of. It grounds them. Great post.


Post a Comment