Small children not only have problems with object recognition in a dimly lit bedroom, they also in early childhood as young as two or three have good imaginations often telling adults that they see or hear something vividly that is only a figment of their very colorful imagination. Combine the two and they were easily could see monsters in the dark which their parents then tell them aren’t real and that they should act as if they are not there and go to sleep. What this really means is that they still “see” monsters but know they have to act as if they weren’t there.
When a child is in bed, they see things from a different perspective than the one they have when they are sitting up or moving around the room. There is the psychological concept of object permanency which is used when a child is able to see an object such as a bottle from different angles and in different types of illumination and still know that it is a bottle and treat it like one.
Another difference is the rods in the retina pick up and transmit the effect of a black and white picture which is more blurry than that the very sharp image that the cones give in brilliant color (which are in the center of the retina) in very bright light. Yes, black and white images in photos and motion pictures are almost gone and “little” ones are probably not familiar with them.Could this be the origin of fears of sleeping in the dark which are topped off by the parent telling them that what they see and what it looks like (how they perceive it) is wrong and their feelings about it are foolish and should be denied so that the parent (not necessarily the child) can relax and go back to sleep thinking that they have banished the monsters effectively and gotten the child to believe there are no monsters in his or her room when they have done no such thing. What they really have done has made the situation more scarey because the child still believes there are monsters but his or her parents don’t believe it and now they can’t depend on their parents for help and must face the perceived danger alone and probably without a light to illuminate the dark and scarey corners.
Don’t make children deny their feelings, they don’t go away, they just stay out of sight. They must be seen from the child’s point of view. For example, mommy, daddy, there is the monster over there and there is his head, there are his eyes and there are his hands and he has claws sticking out. See he is breathing. Fuzzy images in the near dark do look like they might be moving or breathing. It can happen also from a child’s changes in perspective.
Recently I have been conducting experiments of my own. There is a night light on in our master bedroom and I often wake up very early in the morning while it is still dark outside and I see things in the shadows and they even seem to move or look unrecognizable especially my husband’s clothes hung on the bedpost or the covers pushed up in a pile at the end of the bed. It seems very easy to not realize what I am really looking at and could easily identify in broad day light. I’ve seen a goblin with a shiny eyes and a big male pig laying there with two twitching ears. I have even reached out to touch the apparition in order to satisfy myself as to what the image really is.