Sunday, April 14, 2013

I'm Scared Mommy

Lately my little 2 year old (soon to be 3 year old), has said, "mommy, I'm scawed of the wolf'," and "the wolf is going to get me!"  This is usually when we are walking down our hall to her bedroom, and it's a dark hallway.  After trying to get to the bottom of this so called wolf, it seems that she is convinced a wolf is in her room when the lights are off and so she is afraid to go to her room alone.  (And where she got the idea of a wolf, I have no idea- no Little Red Riding books either).

And so it begins!  The 'afraid of the dark' and 'monsters' thing is starting.  I have been dreading this fear, as I know almost all children go through this.  But THANKFULLY, she is still able to go to sleep at night without drama of the dark!  Phew.  But I know any day now she is going to say she is afraid of the dark and can't sleep, wants to be in our bed, has to have all of the lights on, needs me to check the closet for monsters, etc.

So what is a parent to do?  And most importantly, what I am going to do?

As a side note on fears, first off  I have to mention that fears and anxieties are normal in children. 
So let's go over what normal fears are in kids.  Anxiety and fears are pretty common in children-in preschool aged kids, 90% have one specific fear and the most common ones are: loud noises, strangers, separation from parents, the dark, sleeping alone, thunder, rain, and imaginary figures.

But, that being said, they can also be a HUGE, HUGE thing/problem.  To us adults a child's fears can seem crazy (you are afraid your stuffed dog is going to come alive? what?), but to them they are really scary.  If your child has fears/phobias that have started to really affect their normal routines, school, friendships, etc., then I would recommend finding a therapist for them to see to help them through them.  

So back to the fear of the dark.

Try putting our shoes in their tiny feet.  When my child is running down the dark hallway at home, I need to remember that to her, it's a dark, super long and scary narrow hallway, where to us adults, it's only like 3 steps and we're done.  The fear of the dark when kids are going to bed is pretty real and scary to them.  They are alone without their mom or dad, in a room that is super big to them, so it's no wonder they ask us to stay with them until they fall asleep or to keep all of the lights on, or keep the door open. 

Here are a few tips for fears of the dark and monsters (and other things that go bump in the night):

-Use the first technique from my fave parenting book, How to Talk :) Acknowledge their feelings of fear: "I can see you look really scared" or "you are telling mommy you are afraid of the dark, and it's okay to feel afraid sometimes."  We don't want to dismiss their feelings, even though we all know there are no such things as monsters :)  Telling them this won't make it go away that easily, believe me, I wish it was!  You can say, "You are telling mommy that you are afraid of a monster under your bed, and even though there are no such things as monsters, you are still afraid."  And then try one of the techniques below.

-If they talk about monsters (or wolves), that are under their bed or in the closet, try not to confirm they exist.  By saying, "Okay, let me check your closet for monsters" you are confirming they might be there, which to a child means, 'these monsters are real because mommy is looking for them- they aren't there now, but they may come back later.'  Confirm their feelings of fear, but if they insist on checking under the bed, have them check themselves after you discuss their feelings.  It gives them the control and power when they can do it themselves.

-A good way to problem solve with them is to have them come up with answers on how to confront their fears.  If they think monsters are under their bed, acknowledge their fears, and then ask them how they can make them go away.

-You can also use puppets and practice with them on confronting their fear- ask them what they would say to the monster if they saw one and use a puppet to pretend.  Kind of like role-playing. 

-Drawing their fears is another way to help them express what they are afraid of.  Tell them to, "draw me a picture of that monster" or "draw a picture of the dark".

-Keep a nightlight in the room.  They even sell these cute ones on Amazon that you can sleep with:

Cloud b Twilight Constellation Night Light, Turtle (26.17$)

Or this one that my daughter loves (only problem is you have to charge it a lot):

-Limit scary tv shows, books and movies, especially in the evenings.  Here's a good cute story to read about fears of the dark:

The Berenstain Bears in the Dark (4.99$)

-If they want to keep the lights on for awhile, and they can still sleep with them on, then it might be a good idea to let them, so the whole family can get some sleep.  But not if it keeps them awake.  Also, you can leave the door open if that helps them sleep better, or even get a baby gate installed on the outside of the door if you have a wandering toddler.

-There's also the whole "do I let my child sleep with me or not?" and co-sleep debate when they have fears, and I think the best call on this one is to go with your instincts as a parent.  For us personally, we all sleep better in our own beds.  My toddler has even asked to sleep in her own bed when I wanted her to sleep with me when she was sick! Like a dog loves their kennel, mine loves her crib. But when there's a thunderstorm or our toddler is sick, then we let her sleep with us.  So far, it hasn't been very often.  (One day I hope her sister and her share a room so they will hopefully comfort each other) :)

I know there is not an easy fix answer that will solve their fears over night, but hopefully using some of these techniques will help them go away faster and lessen their anxieties.  Does anyone have any success stories out there?


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