Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A few days before Independence Day we talked about fireworks. I mentioned that fireworks are rockets exploding in the sky and making pretty lights, and Anna immediately got worried. Her verbal skills and emerging imagination come with a flip side – dreaming up worst case scenarios and fearing things that she doesn’t understand or didn’t experience before. Fortunately, we haven’t had to deal with monsters under her bed in the middle of the night, at least not yet. At the rate we are going, I think we will arrive there as well, because yesterday suddenly she didn’t want to go play in her room by herself, because “maybe the ghosts are playing there without me“. This is another of her pet fears – occasionally ghosts figure in the books that we pick up from the library (for example, a book about Letter H had a Haunted House in it). So how do we deal with those fears?
  • First of all, we acknowledge them. I read somewhere that it’s counter-productive to tell your toddler, Oh, you are not scared. She is, and minimizing her fears makes her question her own reality.
  • We try to expose her to a scary experience in small doses and in safe environments. For example, she is not a big fan of fire trucks, because of the loud noises they make. We had fire trucks coming over during 4th of July Block Party. First, Anna absolutely refused to even approach one. Gradually, I enticed her to climb in it with me. Suddenly, her fear lifted, and she was all over it, climbing up and down and flirting with firemen.
  • Explaining and reasoning. I admit that long-winded scientific explanations don’t usually work well. Even my simple assurances that fireworks are fun and she will be safe didn’t work. Anna quite liked the fireworks in the sky that were launched at a distance by someone, because she only heard a faint boom. However, the minute our ground fireworks started she buried her face in my chest and promptly went to sleep. She slept soundly through 15 minutes of ear-splitting noise, then woke up the moment silence fell and asked if we’re really truly done yet. She wasn’t pleased to still hear some fireworks in the distance and at home I had to use the last resort:
  • “Magic”. After our return from the fireworks, we had the following exchange with Anna:

Anna: I am still scared of fireworks. Why are they still going?

Me: Some of our neighbors are still celebrating American birthday. It will be over soon.

Anna: I am worried that fireworks come into our house, into my room and burn my blankie.

Me (firmly): They cannot do it. We have a big sign on our house that says, “Fireworks are not allowed here”.

Anna (interested): Where is this sign?

Me: It’s written with an invisible paint that only the fireworks can see.

Anna (sleepily): OK. Tell them again not to come.

Here is a quick reference that I found on dealing with fears in toddlers. I would be interesting to hear about the fears your children have and how you help them to overcome them.