Peanut used to be a total daredevil. Last summer, we spent a significant amount of time at a local theme park going on all the rides we was big enough to ride. She wasn’t afraid of any of them. She explored bugs rather than running from them. She was so adventurous that I was the one afraid she was going to fall.
This year though, it appears to be a different story. It started over the winter. She was afraid of the dark and didn’t want to sleep in her own bed. She was starting to be scared by things on TV. Now though, it seems to be getting more intense. We got summer kids movie passes and have left every movie we’ve gone to except one. She’s still kind of afraid of bugs and she hides when she sees strangers or even people she knows that she hasn’t seen in a while.
I figure it’s developmental. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how she’s learning independence right now, and I figure it’s probably scary to delve out onto your own. I’m not very concerned about her sudden increase of fear. It is something that we need to deal with though.
My initial reaction is to tell her things like “it’s okay” and “there’s nothing to be afraid of,” but I am coming to realize that this isn’t the message I want to give her. I don’t want to dismiss her fear. Everyone is afraid of something. Sure, maybe you’re not afraid of the shark in Finding Nemo, but you’re probably afraid of losing your child, death, or spiders. Everyone is afraid of something and it’s not always logical.
So what do I do? It changes every days, but here are some of the things I’ve tried to help her deal with her fear.
- Talk about fear in general. Both outside the situation and directly after something scary has happened. We talk about how sometimes we’re afraid and that’s okay. We talk about how things can startle us, like a bug crawling on your leg. We talk about how everyone is afraid of some things.
- Talk about the things she’s afraid of. Sometimes talking about the things she’s afraid of helps her realize they’re not so scary. If we’re out in the garden and a bug scares her, I go near it with her and we study it. Often, she walks away talking about how interesting the praying mantis was rather than how it scared her.
- Avoid situations that are too intense. With our summer movie passes, I’ve been checking the parental guides before going to movies and we’ve just opted out of going to the ones that sound too scary. We’ve ended up leaving movies that I didn’t think would be too scary (e.g. Despicable Me, which she’s seen before at our house so I thought it would be okay), but at least I can avoid the situation all together if I can tell a movie is going to be too much for her.
- Try not to dismiss fears. Everything is all new to her. Sure, I can realize that an ant can’t hurt me. She doesn’t know this. Many things are much bigger than her too. Walking into a crowded room is overwhelming for me, but for someone who only reaches 3 feet, I can see how it would be outright scary. Putting myself in her shoes often makes me realize why something could be scary to her.
- Keep a cool head. It’s hard not to get frustrated that we’re leaving the movie the umpteenth time or that she’s hiding behind me at a gathering we’ve been invited to. It’s helpful to remind myself that she’s small and everything is so new. She’s just barely realizing that the world can be a scary place and it will take her time to adjust. This is a phase. Before I know it, she will be back to the little daredevil I used to know.
What do you do to help your small human through scary situations? How do you respect their feelings about fears? Any suggestions you’d like to add to the list?