Nothing to fear but fear itself. Oh, yeah… and robots.

by Jen on November 21, 2008

in Lowering the bar for mothers everywhere

The Monkeyboy has started to be fearful. It’s not all that surprising, given that this all began on the tails of October, the scary-things month, when kids are bombarded with all sorts of potentially frightening sights and sounds. The first mention he made of his fears was about a month ago one night when I rocked and sang to him before bed.

“It’s dark in here.” He said. I assured him it was only dark because it was nighttime and that made it easier to go to sleep. And, as Annie so chirpingly sings, the sun will come out tomorrow. “Who’s that over there?” He then asked, pointing. “Over there, in the dark, in the corner!” There are few things creepier than a small child who purports to see something you don’t. Shades of The Sixth Sense, that’s for sure.

“It’s a skeleton!” Okay, at this point I was fairly certain that it was an imaginary fear and not that my kid was… creepy. And although I assured him that it wasn’t, over the next few weeks he’d sometimes be okay with merely that, sometimes we’d have to turn on the light to check, and most nights he let go of his fears fairly easily.

Until a few weeks ago.

Just going to prove that you can’t predict what kids will be afraid of, he has latched on to robots as his biggest fear. As far as we can determine, this all stems from the Backyardigan’s Front Page News episode. In this episode a robot “attacks” a city, repeating “cheese… cheese… cheese…” since his real motivation turns out to be having his picture taken for the newspaper. The Hubster is the one who figured out the source of the robot fear and complained that children’s television (teeee-veeee, the Monkeyboy calls it) seems to believe that 22 minutes of scary can be wiped out at the end by 3 minutes of rational explanation that it wasn’t anything scary after all. You know, that it was really the groundskeeper dressed as the Hound of the Baskervilles and in order to cover up a real-estate scam. Anyone who knows toddlers knows that rational creatures they are not. All your average three year old remembers is the 22 minutes of slavering beast.

After that episode, Monk started asking, “Are there robots out here?” every time we left the house, searching the sky for imminent attack. “I want to go in the house!” He began resisting leaving the house at all. When we forced him to go somewhere, he either wanted to be carried or he ran to the car. At daycare he pitched a fit several times when it came time to go outside and play.

It’s taken a lot of talking and slow desensitization to get him comfortable with being outside again. Although he’s not focused on his fear daily, it still comes up. Then the other night a helicopter flew directly and loudly over the house. As it passed, flying low over the treetops of our woods, I looked out the window. “Was that a robot?!” the Monkeyboy asked, joining me at the window with a look of worry crossing his face. Although he seemed initially satisfied when I told him it was a helicopter (he was too late to see it), he still woke three times in the night, crying and confused. Now in addition to worrying about future interrupted nights and the effects of sleep deprivation (on myself as much as on him), I’m concerned about him becoming a mama’s boy fraidy cat. I fear the fear.

I can’t recall if I had any debilitating fears when I was a child.* Maybe a couple of horror movies that stuck with me and gave me nightmares, but what had the most effect on me was my incapacitating shyness (which most people who know me as an adult cannot believe due to my current abrasively outspoken personality). I’m not sure what else we can do to help him work through this, other than keep up the reassurances that there are no robots outside. I’m not particularly comfortable with this tactic, either. It seems dismissive of something that I’m sure to him seems very real.

What were your fears as a child? And what (if anything) helped you overcome them?

*Of course, as an adult I have my paralyzing phobias of spiders and sharks.

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