Ghosts: 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. Totally agree. Talk of ghosts used to freak me out when I was a kid... Still do sometimes actually...

  2. Doc;
    Yeah. I don't think most adults can handle it, actually.

  3. I completely agree. While I am of the school of thought that says while kids like to be scared a little, somethings are just too much.

  4. HN:
    So true. I had a high tolerance since I grew up with TV crews, reporters and mediums coming to talk about the ghosts, but my son grew up in the nice new suburbs. He was not tolerant of anything scary at all. He was in his teens before he took to horror movies. I realize it's all a matter of how it's presented to you. For my family, it was like we had unseen family members who protected us. We knew we wouldn't be hurt and we suspected they might not even be aware of us or only glimmers of it. I always assumed that to each other we are ghosts and sometimes they stop and go "what was that?" when they hear us or catch a glimpse.

  5. A great blog that you have here. Thank you always for the visit and kind words.

  6. Some kids are different. I would leave it up to the discretion of the parent to decide if their kid can handle it. Most, still, would opt to let them go out and busy themselves though.

  7. i usually take codeine and lexapro and all ghost problems disappear.


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