Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Preschool Years (3–5)

Why do children see monsters in the closet at night?

The ability of preschool children to create fantasy precedes their ability to distinguish fantasy from external reality. The lack of clear distinction between fantasy and reality can be a drawback. A scary story can seem very real to a preschool child, even when reminded that it is only pretend. Many preschool children become afraid of monsters in their closet at night. Although they see that the closet contains only clothing when the lights are on, they fear that their shirts and pants can change into monsters as soon as the lights go out. This phenomenon relates to Piaget’s concept of pre-operational thought. The child does not yet have a solid grasp on how objects change and how they stay the same. Such a changeable world can be very scary at times.


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