Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Children & phobias

I have a parenting conundrum and I would welcome some input on this. 

My 3 year old boy appears to have developed a fear or phobia of putting clothes over his head because "it's dark".  This is a recent development and it comes and goes but at the moment it's pretty intense and trying to get his pyjama top on last night was a challenge to say the least with him running away, clinging to daddy, hiding behind doors.  It's not a tantrum - he is completely petrified with tears streaming down his face.  He's a strong, confident boy in many ways but he panics as soon as you go to put a t-shirt over his head and it turns into more of an ordeal because he's pushing it off at the same time.  Generally I win the battle because well, we have to leave the house and go to school in the morning but I am conscious that I might be making things worse.

Now he's not scared of the dark. He goes to bed in the dark and has done since birth although recently he has asked for his door to be open a bit and is a little hesitant when going into a dark room but it's mainly clothes over the head that is the issue here. I suppose I could side-step the issue and buy clothes that get buttoned up but I feel that could also make things worse for him as he'll never get used to it. 

I've tried to think if something has happened to him to make him react like this but I can't. I wondered if something had happened at school to make him afraid and whether I should approach it with them to see what he's like when getting changed for swimming or PE. At least that might tell me if it's a real fear or something to do with being at home.

I know that many children around this age develop fears and many of them are irrational but how do you deal with these? What is the less damaging approach? Attack it straight on or side step the issue?  From reading up on it both approaches can have repercussions so I don't know what to do for the best. I'm sure he will outgrow this but in the meantime we still need to get dressed!  

So I guess what I am asking today is what would you do if your child had a fear or phobia, irrational or otherwise? How would you handle it? 

love & kisses
Mrs M x


  1. It's really tricky to know what would be best! He has to get dressed and with a fear like this is tempting to just dress him regardless of his phobia, but then he no doubt is very upset by it and I suppose to him its a real fear. Could you use bribery?

  2. First off, I would let them know that I acknowledge their fear - irrational or not, our phobias and fears have the same intense affect on our bodies. We respond to real danger and perceived danger in exactly the same way and when you are 3 it can be difficult to distinguish between the two (or even when you are 33 or 63!)

    One idea could be to get him to dress a teddy bear or doll and talk you through doing that, asking him to explain what teddy/doll is feeling at each stage. You could then talk directly to teddy/rather than your little one and reassure him that it's ok and perhaps ask teddy what would make those feelings go away. Talking to teddy/doll rather than to your son direct can take the pressure of him a little.

    Telling him stories, like fairy tales, which are metaphors for his worries can help - there's a nice book called Nightlights which has metaphorical tales in it for all types of fears and phobias.

    If he's going to be 4 soon or there is another milestone coming, up you could use the tactic of getting him to collude with you by agreeing that "it's ok to be scared of putting on his clothes when you're 3 but everyone knows that 4 year olds aren't worried about that, are they?" If you can get him to agree then he might subconsciously give himself permission to let go of the fear at that milestone.

    Unless it's the result of an ongoing trauma or situation he is having to face, it's not always important to get to the root cause of a fear if you can handle the symptoms and change the damaging behaviour patterns (others may disagree with me on that point). One interesting thought is that childbirth from the baby's perspective has been likened to pulling on a polo neck jumper - perhaps a physical memory of his birth? That said, knowing that doesn't necessarily help.

    Gosh there's loads more I could say - but think I might be rambling now! Hope some of this helps.

    Tracy x


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