I’m wondering if you have any suggestions for me. I have a daughter, 27 months old, who, somehow has become traumatized by the Halloween festivities. We do not decorate with Halloween decor, but she learned the word “scary” and now EVERYTHING is scary. She is almost debilitated by it at times.
Things she fears include anything from a hair bow in her room, to a jacket, to an old fabric pumpkin face that we did as a craft (that she previously enjoyed). I try to gently talk her through it and remove the offending object, if possible. But I wonder if it’s just a phase, or if she might benefit from some kind of counseling, even though she is very young. Her language skills are pretty advanced, in my opinion.
What do you recommend for someone so young? She’s starting to have trouble going to bed now even though she has a good lamp in her room.
Fears in children that age are very common. In fact, most children will have some kind of specific fear or phobia that won’t immediately disappear. However, you don’t need to be scared of your child’s fear.
Sometimes a parent’s anxiety around their child’s own anxiety can actually make things worse. Amy Cluff, therapist and child therapy expert, said that “sometimes parents become so preoccupied with removing everything that scares or upsets the child that it unintentionally sends a signal to the child that those things are actually dangerous when, in reality, they are not.”
Check your own reactivity around her fear and make sure you’re managing your own distress so she doesn’t pick up on the message that something must really be wrong. We want our children to be happy, free, and enjoy a safe childhood. When they show signs of fear and anxiety, it’s natural for us to scramble to make everything comfortable for them.
Instead, I recommend you leave everything like it is and let her know that things aren’t dangerous. You can show her this by comforting her, holding her, and showing her that these things aren’t harmful. Over time, she’ll eventually recognize that she’s safe and move forward. If you organize her entire world around removing every potential threat, she’ll learn that she’s fragile and can’t handle being uncomfortable.
Children need to face their fears with the loving support of their parents. Removing those fears every time a child flinches in distress only teaches them that they can’t handle the unpredictability of the world. Obviously, some dangers that are harmful to their physical and emotional safety need to be removed. For example, I wouldn’t encourage you to have her watch a horror movie so she can learn to handle scary things.
Her fears make sense to her, but you can gently reassure her that she’s safe and those things won’t hurt her. You can support her by staying close to her when she’s afraid and trust that she will eventually see that these things aren’t a real threat. As you calmly connect to her and allow her to experience the discomfort in the presence of these triggers, she’ll develop more resilience and eventually move forward a stronger kid.
- Relationship Connection: Protecting our children from our fears
- Perspectives: Welcome to play-upon-our-fears week
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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