Wednesday, January 18, 2012

when preschoolers develop fears

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Bear (who is 3) has recently developed a feAR oF tHe dARk and going to sleep.  i will admit that this surprises me, especially when we have a family bed.  it has gotten so that it is a 45-sometimes 90 minute struggle to get him to go to sleep for naptime and bed.  as you can imagine, this leads to a grumpy Bear and a disgruntled Momma.

after talking to him about his fears, he told me that he's afraid to go to sleep because he doesn't want to have baD dReaMS.  this current development has prompted some hard thinking on my part about how sleep times are handled in our house.  as a practicer of attachment parenting, i want to do everything in my power to help my son feel secure and safe... and to be assured that it's okay to feel the way he does. 

there are a many things that children can be afraid of:
the dark
bad dreams
people in costumes
the flushing of the toilet
being alone/without parents

i will openly admit to being afraid of clowns/mimes/some porcelean dolls and drive-thru car washes.  silly and irrational?  absolutely.  but are they paralyzing to me? absolutely.
knowing that i have these fears, i want others around me to validate them.
i don't want to be made to feel stupid or embarrassed about them.
i take all of this in consideration when dealing with Bear and his fears.  

how can we deal with these fears that strike our children so hard, but are illogical to us?

  • Make your child comfortable.  shoving your 3 year old towards the great-aunt sally he sees once a year is likely to induce even more anxiety in your child causing them to cry or cling to you.
  • Don't share your fears with your kiddo.  for instance, my fear of clowns really shouldn't be shared with my son, though i admit to doing it. [mommy fail]
  • Try bibliotherapy.  there is such a wide variety of children's books out there that cover fear inducing topics such as: monsters under the bed, first haircuts, going to the doctor, the first day of school, etc.  reading books of this variety may help children to deal with their fears.
  • Sympathize with your child.  try not to belittle their feelings by telling them that they shouldn't be afraid.  instead try an approach that shows you understand and validate their fears.  for instance, "i know that thunderstorms can be scary because of all the noise.  would you like to cuddle and read a book/sing a song/watch a movie/pray together?"
  • Turn to your faith.  if you are a family that practices a faith, pray together that you can hand your fears up to God.  A simple verse is "Don't be afraid for I am with you." Isaiah 41:10, NLT

these are just the approaches that i've used with Bear.  but i'd like to know:

how do you handle the fears of your child?

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Anonymous said...

We are having the same problem with our 4 year old, she was doing great going to sleep by herself not getting out of bed. But the past week she keeps getting out of her bed saying she wants us in her room because she is afraid saying she has bad dreams. Its hard because we pray with her, and read good books and she still does it. She just feels more comfortable when we are in there watching her and "protecting" her. Im not sure what to do. I cant be in her room every evening until she falls sleep. She does great during nap time....but not bedtime. And we leave the hallway light on and our room is right down the small hallway and her little brothers room is right next to hers and he goes to bed alone.

Aunt Annie said...

I've got a couple of blog posts that might give you some ideas to help the little chap.

I totally agree with what you say about not sharing your own fears if you can help it- I've seen children who are absolutely terrified of harmless spiders like daddy-long-legs because of this, and it's really hard to dispel once it's modelled by a parent.

Christy said...

I have always left a night lite on in the kids room. They are more scared of monsters, so I just have to limit the types of cartoons and movies they watch for that.

crittersandcrayons said...

Great post- I try to just comfort them with whole hugs and to say that I understand. They won't be small forever and they won't always let me hold them to calm their fears- so I'll sit as long as it takes.

Unknown said...

My kids are older but still have fear issues. I will never forget a certain Elmo party in which we were the cause of a 20+ child chain reaction stampede of frantic screaming 3 year olds out the backdoor as a costumed Elmo entered the room. Now we are still afraid of the dark, of thunder, airplanes passing overhead and any other loud noises. It is hard to understand some of the fears and their origin but we pray. The kids will even come to me and ask to pray when they are scared {2 in prayer is better than 1}.

Children at the foot of the bed or on the floor is still commonplace here. Never never belittle the fear, I'm big on that... reassurance and hugs and more reassurance with prayer is the best way to go!

Kristina said...

I am still trying to figure this out. My son isn't really afraid of anything right now, but he sleeps with a flashlight just in case he gets nervous in the dark. He used to think there were monsters or that his bed was on fire sometimes... but either I would take the monsters out of the room and lock them in the bathroom or I would throw the fire into the bathroom or throw pretend water on it. It helped when I took his fears seriously and didn't get annoyed at him or tell him they weren't real- since they were real to him. I also don't let him watch movies with monsters or fire too much... since the nightmares/fears tend to start right after he is exposed to them (The Incredibles- Jack Jack and Monsters Inc. caused some fears!)

Melanie @ bear rabbit bear said...

Thanks for these tips. We haven't reached this stage yet but I am sure that it is coming. Glad to have you at Things I’ve Done Thursday!

The Iowa Farmer's Wife said...

These are great tips. My daughter is afraid of the big potty. Used to go on it with no problem and now only uses the little potty. I have told her she has nothing to be afraid of because i don't want her to think there is, but maybe I should take the approach of telling her I see where she is coming from and pray with her about it more. Thanks! Porcelain dolls and clowns ARE scary!

Anonymous said...

We have always taken any anxieties my son shows seriously. We are also practicing attachment parenting, which others in our lives don't quite agree with. Eli went through a long time of extreme separation anxiety. I got a lot of pressure to leave him in the church nursery or with other people to watch him so he could learn how to be more independent, etc. We never did though, and now we can see such a deep trust in him toward us. I hope as the issues get more complicated as he gets older we will still be able to make wise decisions that continue to foster that trust and to be able to make him feel safe. I remember as a child laying awake night after night paralyzed with fear, needing to use the bathroom, yet convinced that a monster would grab my ankles and pull me under the bed if I stepped out of it. I felt that nobody would take my fear seriously so I just endured it. I never want Eli to feel like that.

Beth ( said...

My kids have started saying they are afraid....we have encouraged them with scripture and pray over them. I love your tips. Thanks for linking up to TGIF! Have a GREAT week,
Beth =-)

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