Four-year-old Addison Burns is afraid of skeletons. For her sister Caitlyn, 9, it’s zombies.

Their mother, junior biology major Kristy Burns, said Addison has asked her to close the closet door because of her fear, which led Burns to wonder where her children’s fears stemmed from.

Counseling psychology professor Theresa Kruczek said it is common for children to have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality because children’s brains are still developing between ages 7 and 8.

“Developmentally, that's about the stage they start having a little bit more awareness of existential issues,” she said. “That's when they start to understand a little bit more about birth and death.”

However, Kruczek said there are ways to help them overcome these fears.

She recommends using some type of spray as “anti-monster spray” to reassure children that they are doing something to scare the monsters away. 

“Monsters,” Kruczek said, “they only like stinky stuff. So, if you get something that smells good, they’re not going to want to come in your room.”

She added using eco-friendly essential oils can further help the child because scents like lavender have calming effects. 

Burns said she thinks the idea of anti-monster spray is creative, but she prefers a more logical approach with her own children. When Addison came to her about the closet door, Burns turned on the light in the closet and reminded her daughter that monsters aren’t real. 

“I feel like having honest conversations with the kids,” she said. “Monster spray, that’s just not me.”

Burns also makes sure her kids know there are people underneath every Halloween costume. When her husband dressed up as a gorilla when Caitlyn was younger, she said her daughter was terrified. He took off part of the costume to assure Caitlyn it was still him.

“From that time on, she never had an issue with it,” Burns said.

Even commercials for horror movies, she said, can give her children bad dreams, so Burns said she likes to talk it out with her children and ground them back in reality.

Despite their fears, Addison and Caitlyn love family-friendly Tim Burton films like “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” which include both skeletons and zombies as main characters. Last Halloween, Caitlyn even dressed up as Sally, the ragdoll character with blue skin and a body that she re-stitches together.

And while Caitlyn is still afraid of zombies, she no longer believes in holiday characters like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny.

“Caitlyn is very resilient,” Burns said. “Now she’s just like, okay, I lost a tooth. Where’s my money?”

Contact Bailey Cline with comments at or on Twitter at @BaileyCline.