A Frightened Child

As I sat down to continue working on this post this morning, I realized that my post about being scared coincides with Halloween. That was not planned – I’m not that mindful or that cheezy. Well I guess I can be that cheezy, but I was not meaning to be in this case!

This post is in reference to a comment from my new friend Danielle: Okay, what do you do with a child that has a tendency to develop fears or phobias. The first one we noticed was the deathly fear of stick horses, screamed every time she saw one. Next she hates her sister’s infant bath. Cries during her bath time “Move Jessie’s bath”. She doesn’t like her bath-time anymore, stays in long enough to get washed. We have tried moving it, hiding it, ignoring the problem, reasoning with her, singing songs hoping they would distract. She still cries. Also it’s the dogs when they bark and the cows when they moo and oh we can’t forget thunder. Hates them all and cries. I am pretty sure she cries more than my two month old. She finally got over the stick horses when her friends started playing with them. Any input?

First of all, it is important to note that this is super normal for Audrey’s age (18 months – 2ish). Everything is new to them and so they can get scared of things easily – especially if they became scared once before by the specific thing or something similar. So even though it doesn’t seem rational to have a fear of a stick-horse or an infant bath (both of which are too cute to me but probably not as cute to you anymore!), your sweet girl probably has a rational reason for being scared.

It seems like you are doing the right things.  If you aren’t already, I suggest  talking about the “scary” thing before it happens.  For instance, before you head into the bathroom for bath-time, you can talk to her about it. Say something like: “Audrey, we are going to go take a bath, I’ve put Jessie’s bath away and so you don’t need to cry, you’ll be just fine and Mommy’s here with you.”

My next thought on what you can do when your child gets scared: watch your reaction. I had a friend over to my house the other day with her sweet boy and a baby that she watches. In the time they were visiting, both the toddler and the baby fell down and got a bump and her reaction to them was fantastic.

I saw/listened to her go to both of them calmly, not rush quickly to them as I usually do, and with a super-chipper tone, just simply said, “You’re okay.” And that was it. She didn’t say, “oh did you fall” (which is what I usually do), she didn’t rush to them panicy, she just calmly tended to them and they were okay in mere seconds.

It was in watching these children calm down so quickly that revealed to me that she was doing something right, and I was not doing that thing since my girls will literally cry for a full minute if they get a scratch that is so small I can’t even find it!! So I assessed myself for a few day and realized that I tend to:

  • focus on the boo-boo and say “what did you hurt” or “oh what happened”
  • run quickly in to swoop them up
  • make a bigger deal out of it than I should – So now, my girls do the same: they overreact to any minor ouchie.

What my friend did right was to:

  • reassure the child that she was there
  • offer comfort but not over-do it (even just rubbing their back put not picking them up)
  • keep herself upbeat and calm so the child knew they were okay by her reaction

The other thing I realized, a few years ago,  was that I used the words “scared” or “afraid” when I was directing my kids to do something: “Sit down, I’m afraid you’ll fall.” “Don’t touch that, I’m scared it will break.” etc. Now, this may seem trivial, but what I noticed was that I was using these words out of context.  I was not fearful they would fall/break something, I just didn’t want them to do what they were doing; but I was teaching them that I was scared quite a bit instead of communicating what I meant in reality.  So I changed my phrasing: “Please sit down, I don’t want you to fall.” And I took “scared” and “afraid” out of my vocabulary as much as possible.

I know changing your words can seem very minor, but I do fully believe that the tongue has the power of life and death. I just didn’t want to go on speaking fear into so many situations of my kids lives.

On a different note, Danielle, in your specific case, it seems like Audrey is sensitive to sounds. Watch her reaction to loud noises to see if this holds true. So maybe the sound of the bath filling up is too loud for her and that is what she doesn’t like – easy fix: fill it up before you take her in there. Now, you can’t fix each loud-noise situation, but if you are aware of her tendency, then you may more understand why she cries or gets scared.

When Mason was around this age, we were at a stoplight when an ambulance came through and honked their horn SUPER loud. We all jumped but he started scream/crying instantly.  We live close to a fire station and every time he would hear the fire trucks, he would scream/cry – even if he was asleep.  He probably did this for a year and it finally donned on me that it stemmed from the initial encounter with the ambulance.

Brooklyn, as she entered this age, also became scared of the sirens, so I started telling her, “That’s just the fire truck, it’s ok.” But then I realized that I never said anything else, so to her, a fire truck only meant something loud that came by our house a lot and scared her. So then I started telling her, “That’s the fire truck, they are on their way to help some one and they are telling everyone to move over so they can go help quicker.” Once she realized they were going to help someone, not just drive by our house and make loud noises, she didn’t seem scared any more.

So, you might see if there is a way to add some explanation to the scary situations so that she might more understand what they are actually for – not just to frighten her.  Good luck with the explanation on the mooing!!

Now, Danielle, I have no idea if these suggestions will be useful in helping Audrey. Whether it applies to this specific situation or not, I thought these things were worth mentioning for all the parents reading. Just watching my friend with her two little ones certainly changed they way I react to the everyday bumps and frights that my little babes encounter. I can’t wait to hear more about cute Audrey and her freedom from phobias!


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