Anxiety in children: archetypes

All children are afraid sometimes, but it is something different if the fear keeps returning. Parents and educators can help the child get rid of these fears. In this article you will find information about 3 common fears: the witch, the monster and the ghost.


Fear is an emotion. Emotions tell us that something is going on. They are neither negative nor positive. The form of expression can be negative or positive. Fears are common in children. It is a response to unprocessed events.

There is a slight difference between fears and phobias. A phobia is a fear of an object, animal or situation that hinders normal functioning (e.g. fear of spiders, claustrophobia , fear of dogs, etc…). Anxiety does not always hinder normal functioning and is often acute.


Archetypes are often described as archetypes. These are, as it were, symbols that are ingrained in our subconscious. We often encounter these archetypes in our dreams. Fairy tales and myths also use archetypes to tell a story. Sometimes
archetypes surface as symbols during anxiety attacks. In this article I discuss the witch, the monster and the ghost.


Many children are afraid of witches. It is not a problem if the child is scared of a witch or has nightmares about witches. It is different if the child often has nightmares about witches or wants to avoid witches (or has an obsession with witches).

Witches symbolize the bad mother. It often concerns an important woman in the child’s life. This could be the mother or grandmother or another woman who plays an important parenting role in the child’s life. Fear of witches indicates an unresolved conflict with this woman: something has happened that the child does not fully understand and cannot process. The woman suddenly seems to be someone else: the sweet mother is suddenly no longer sweet and is not recognized as the sweet mother. Some children go so far as to have two mothers in their imagination: the sweet mother and the witch. The conflict can be something small, such as punishment after unwanted behavior. Some children can also be shocked when they witness an argument: they suddenly see that a nice person can also be mean.


When it comes to monsters, a distinction must be made between humanoids and animal monsters. Animal monsters refer to an animal that evokes feelings of fear in the child. This may be a real phobia and it must be addressed as such. Human monsters symbolize a man. Often it is the father or another important man in the child’s life. As with the witch, there is an unresolved conflict here. This may involve a personal conflict with the child or witnessing a conflict with someone else.


A ghost refers to something vague. It is often something that the child has no control over and cannot fully understand. This may concern a situation such as a move or illness and sometimes (in rare cases) real people or animals.


Sometimes there is no problem with a person in the child’s life, but there are things associated with archetypes. Then fears of witches do not refer to the mother (figure) but to something else with which an association is made with the mother figure. For example, if a child is shocked by a woman on the street with the typical appearance of witches from fairy tales, the child will think that witches (from fairy tales) also occur in real life. This creates a feeling of insecurity. If he wakes up at night when the mother comes to check if everything is okay, he may think that a real witch is coming to get him. When the shadow suddenly turns out to be the sweet mother, the confusion is complete. There are many situations where the fear has nothing to do with the person, but is associated with the person due to circumstances. Another example is the sound of trucks early in the morning which can resemble animal humming or the sound of bicycle dynamos which resemble sounds of ghosts etc… .

How do you help the child deal with these fears?


Empathy is very important in order not to let these fears grow to unreasonable proportions. Taking a moment to consider the child’s emotions and certainly not trivializing the situation helps the child more than looking for a solution to the fear. It is best to look for causes and solutions when the child has calmed down.


Fear equates to losing control over a situation. Therefore, give your child the feeling that he has control over the situation. You can do this, for example, by reciting a spell to ward off witches or chasing away ghosts together or another ritual that you devise together. Ideally, this should happen together with the person to whom the archetype refers.

Tackle it

With healthy evolution, fears naturally disappear after a while. It is important that the child feels safe. If the child does not feel safe, the fear may also disappear to make way for another fear (e.g. fear of monsters suddenly becomes fear of witches). Some children also choose to remain silent about their fears and act as if nothing is wrong. Then it can seem like everything is better.

Trust in the most important educational figures in life is very important. Only then can the child talk openly about his fears and a solution can be found. Putting pressure on the child to get over his fears has the opposite effect. Sometimes it is even better to remain silent about the fear and work on the child’s feeling of insecurity. This doesn’t have to be a big effort: simple things like taking fifteen minutes of time with the child can do wonders.


Some situations are more complex than described above. If you cannot reach an agreement as a family, you can always call on professional help. A conversation with someone who is outside the situation often helps to put everything into perspective. Many parents suddenly see the solution themselves, for example by talking to a therapist. Isolating the child to address fears is only advisable in exceptional cases. Tackling the situation together as a family strengthens the bond between parents and children.

There are often other family members with (similar) problems. Taking a moment to consider the (mental) health of the family can reduce the child’s fears. Sometimes changing family priorities or taking a vacation together can do wonders.

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