BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are building a new website!
Read more, and see how you can help:
Berkeley Parents Network >
Preschool-aged Kids >
My 4.8 year old daughter seems really scared of committing
crimes against herself--like drowning herself or staring at
the sun. She gets very worked up--for example, for a while,
while she was taking a bath, she kept saying ''I can't stop
think about going under water,'' until she was in tears &
inconsolable. After one bath where she did repeatedly dunk
her head under water, she refused to take baths any more,
and will now only take showers.
She has the same issue sometimes with looking at the sun,
although thankfully, she hasn't had to banish herself to an
Has anyone experienced this? Is there any way I can comfort
her, and help her regain control of herself?
your question jumped out at me because I went through something similar
with my preschooler.
Here are a few things that come to my mind about the scenarios you
mentioned although I know you weren't necessarily asking for advice about
those specific things.
- just let her shower instead of taking a bath and don't make a big deal out of
- always offer a bath or a shower
- give her a sponge bath
- just let her be dirty for a few weeks and don't make her wash a la mrs piggle
wiggle and the radish cure. also read her that story.
- offer to take a bath with her
- offer to have her come hang out in the bathroom while you take a bath
- let her pick out some cool new bath toys
- tons of bubbles
- show her how to hold her nose and go underwater
- teach her about whales and how they breath
- or fish and gills is always interesting
- if she's in the bath and talking about being scared say: that does sound scary
how about you get out now and we go read a story (or whatever, but let her
feel like she can remove herself from whatever is scaring her)
- ask her about it at some other time when she is feeling happy and talkative
- tell her about something you are scared of and how you deal with it.
- offer her your sunglasses
- let her pick out her own awesome princess/superhero sunglasses
- let her pick out a new hat or wear one of your hats
- teach her all about the sun and planets
- say, instead of staring at the sun how about we go inside a paint a picture of
- teach her how the sun makes plants grow
- plant some sunflower seeds
- teach her all about eyeballs
- teach her the words to You are my sunshine
- acknowledge the fear and then distract her - like, oh yes that does sound
scary, how about we get in the car and listen to some music on our way home
just some thoughts on ways you could deal with her fears. I remember my son
grew out of most of his fears in a few months but others lingered annoyingly.
I guess all that could be boiled down to: don't make a big deal out of it, let
her feel safe and like she can remove herself from a scary thing, distract her
or teach her some cool fact about whatever. 5 year olds are little sponges and
love new facts and knowing about something can make things seem less
Since it is normal for preschoolers to go through cycles
of insecurity including fears, a first good step is to
find a way to give a feeling of control over the issue,
while avoiding reassuring them. I especially like it when
you can turn it into a game and use humor and
imagination. So, instead of saying there is no such thing
as monsters, we go through a lot of ''monster spray'' in my
home (an imaginary bottle of stuff monsters just hate).
This gives them a sense of power and teaches them that
they can solve problems. Maybe you can get your daughter
a snorkel to use in the bath, a magic spell that turns her
into a fish, real or imaginary sun glasses to put on and
take off outside, a magic necklace that holds down her
eyes, etc. It's usually a mistake to simply say ''your
okay'', ''there is nothing to worry about'', ''you can just
not look at the sun''. You'll know you need more help if
her fears start making her or you change your behaviors in
significant ways. Good luck.
My 4-1/2 year old son has suddenly become very afraid -
afraid of a fire at home, afraid of being alone in a room at
home. Basically fearful. So he now follows me around the
house and plays in whatever room I happen to be in at the
moment. At bedtime, he used to be able to go to sleep by
himself. Now, he wants one of us to lie with him in bed, or
at least be in the same room (he shares the room with his
18-month old brother).
I don't know of anything that has happened to him to
suddenly bring this on. Any thoughts on what phase this may
be and how you've handled it would be greatly appreciated.
My son went through this around the age of four. For him,
it was caused by a knock on the door at bed time by
someone selling newspapers! For some reason, this
triggered in him the realization that the world is not
safe (i.e. there are people we don't know knocking on the
door at night, and so on). It triggered in him the
realization that he is not 100% connected to his parents,
100% of the time. He had severe anxiety about not being
able to see us, visually (like you child, needing to be in
the same room). For several months, he would freak out at
preschool and the teachers would have to call me at work
for me to assure him that I was fine, that he was fine,
and so on. It was heartbreaking.
I finally called the pediatrician, because his reaction
seemed so severe, and was causing ME so much anxiety! She
assured the that, in fact, this is a normal phase for many
kids. She suggested that I stay as calm as possible, and
just gently assure him that he is safe, and leave it at
that. I let him be with me when he wanted/needed to, and
did not make a big deal about it. I always assured him
that he was fine/safe.
It finally went away, though I am sure it lasted a few
months. He is now an awesome eight year old!
Hang in there!
My daughter went through this, from 4.5 to 5 years old. She
wouldn't come out from under the bed, or the kitchen table,
or the toy drawer, unless someone came into the room. Then
she was fine. She is now 5.5 yrs, and no longer does this.
We just calmly did our best to stay with her. She often
dressed as a lion to scare the monsters/other lions, but
that didn't seem to do much.
It was stressful, though, for us.
My 3YO daughter is a lively, gregarious, very active, pretty
fearless kid...except when we end up in ''circle time''
settings, be it story time, the end of a class, music class,
you name it. Then she climbs behind whichever adult is with
her and practically strangles them from trying to hang on so
tight. Even when there's nothing ''asked'' of her (e.g.,
singing, clapping, or doing something)--even when all that's
expected is to sit and listen-- she freaks out and tries to
hide and/or run away. She won't sit on a parent's lap or
even beside; she uses us as her shields, so to speak.
She's otherwise a totally happy and un-shy kid (after a few
minutes of warm-up) in social settings. I worry about her
transition to preschool and how that will be for her if
she's so scared even with us.
I've asked her to explain what she's feeling then, and she
says she's afraid of the person in charge, but in some cases
she even knows and loves the leader (and engages with them
freely) outside of that setting, so I'm a bit puzzled. The
fear part is clear; of what she's afraid is less clear and
she doesn't have the language yet to go into that kind of
Is this relatively common? Have you dealt with this in your
own or (if you're a teacher or caregiver) other children?
Any strategies to help her cope?
Thanks in advance!
--Mama of a part-time wallflower
Three-year-olds are often
very fearful of both real things and imaginary ones; most of
them outgrow these fears by the time they're five. My older
child was quite withdrawn in social situations when he was
three (I remember one birthday party at that age at which he
went and stood in a corner where there were no other kids),
but gradually he became more comfortable with groups of kids
as he got older, and now (at 8) gets along well with his
classmates and has plenty of friends. Don't despair.
I saw the response to your post and had to add some words. My daughter,
is very shy in group settings and tends to cling to me, even though at
in familiar surroundings, she is happy and talkative. I've also been very
my life, and group activities still make me very nervous. I think the
best you can
do is support and reassure her, but don't force her to do something that
her nervous (it doesn't help). Some kids outgrow the shyness; some don't.
becomes a problem (i.e. interferes with her ability to enjoy preschool
school) you can get professional help. But since your daughter is very
wouldn't worry too much quite yet. As I said, I've been very shy all my
I've found ways to function despite my nervousness, and had no problems
in preschool or in school.
My son, now 6, has always been very reserved in groups or
around unfamiliar people, but very lively at home. I feel
this is not so unusual, although my friend (with 15+ yrs
working in early childhood education) feels that it's not
seen a lot because parents ''squash'' this type of trait out
of their kids. I want my son to know it's OK to be just
the way he is. I feel that he is just a lot more aware of
his surroundings than other kids (don't mean to sound
judgmental -- all kids have different strengths and
weaknesses); thus he is more wary about interacting with
groups. I suppose when he was younger he might have had
some SPD symptoms that I was oblivious to (see the
symptoms checklist at sensory-processing-disorder.com).
That's probably why he HATED Gymboree class as a tot. (In
retrospect, I can't believe I dragged him to those
crowded, noisy classes!) His temperament is called ''slow-
to-warm.'' Being an extraverted mom, it took me a long time
to get over my frustration with his group-averse behavior,
his unwillingness to greet a relative, play with a child
at a party, etc. Part of me just wanted him to do ''what
the other kids could do.'' But I learned patience and
understanding; I read the book ''The Highly Sensitive
Child.'' Attending a Waldorf kindergarten where there is so
much kindness and everyone seems to appreciate individual
differences really helped him open up. The oldest girl in
the class said she really likes my son because ''unlike
other boys, he listens!'' When he speaks out loud in class,
kids pay attention! If he holds another child's hand in
Circle Time, they feel very special! Sometimes we
say, ''He's not shy; he's selective.'' He blossomed
tremendously in the past year. But back when he was three,
it took many weeks to work up to attending storytime at
the public library. We started out against the back wall,
eventually moved forward little by little. I made sure to
stay late to interact with the librarian, help her clean
up, etc. This contact helped him grow more comfortable
with her. Eventually he was the one telling me he wanted
to go to storytime. (It also helps to show up early at
events before the place is crowded.) So I guess I just
recommend patience, understanding, and baby steps. I
wouldn't force your child into stressful situations. Love
your child the way she is. Good luck.
Extraverted mama who used to be shy kid
I'm wondering if the fear my son feels is normal development or
not. He seems to be scared of a lot of things and it stops him
wanting to do things. For example, he fell off his bike, didn't
get hurt really, but now is scared to get on it or the jogging
stroller because they will tip over.
He was in a major car accident this summer - he wasn't hurt but
it involved multiple rollovers and a trip to the emergency room
on a backboard. It was very scary. I'm wondering if his fears now
are typical for kids his age or if they are in some way related
to the accident and therefore if I should have him see someone.
I imagine the accident has something to do with your son's fear,
but I think it's also normal for kids this age to have a lot of
random fears and sometimes take a long time to process scary
events. My daughter is 3.5 and she's gone through long periods of
being very scared of things. We saw a semi-truck tip over once
and after that she talked a lot about our car tipping over,
driving too fast, etc. The level of fear reaches different
heights -- for a while she would get really scared when we went
out of the house and ask, in a sad, pitiful little voice, to go
home right away. It was hard do deal with, especially hard to see
her in such distress. But we keep talking to her about her fears
and try to come up with different strategies -- ways for her to
conquer her fear -- she likes to hear about our experiences
(''when mama was a little girl X happened to her too...''). She
likes to hear stories about pretend kids going through similar
situations and how they resolved them. I'm sure it wouldn't hurt
to get your son seen by someone, but also know that he will
probably grow out of his fears with support and patience (as hard
as it is to maintain sometimes) from you.
It could well be that he still remembers the car accident,
either consciously or unconsciously. I recommend checking out
Joan Lovett's book Small Wonders, which deals with healing
childhood traumas using a technique called EMDR. She is a
developmental pediatrician in Berkeley, and so you could make
an appointment with her if you think it might be useful.
My son was very ginger on things like suspension bridges,
balance beams, swings and scooters. He seemed to have an
anxiety about safety that we couldn't understand. We thought it
was purely a mental thing but it turned out that he physically
could not feel safe because he had sensory integration issues
that affected his ability to know where his limbs were in space
and to feel balanced on something like a swing or a scooter.
This is something for which early intervention matters, so if
you think it could be something of the sort you might have him
evaluated by an OT if you are at all concerned that it could be
something like this. Mary Kawar and Rita Montez in El Cerrito
The other thing I wonder is whether he was bumped or jostled in
some way on the head during the accident and if head trauma
could possibly be at issue, even if the emergency room docs
didn't catch that. You could consult with Dr. Lovett to see if
the symptoms suggest head trauma. Good luck.
hope this helps
WOW! What an experience you BOTH went through. I would say,
on the one hand, that three year olds can get fearful, and it's
easy for them to overgeneralize from, say, a minor bike fall to
other wheeled things. Kids vary a lot in how fearful they are
(how vivid their imaginations are?). One the other hand, this
must have been pretty traumatic, and it might well help him
tremendously to meet with someone a few times to do some play
therapy around his fears and see if that can alleviate some of
this. It's worth helping him work through this now, would be
my view. Best of luck!
YES I would say his fears are related to the accident-I think
even an adult might be afraid of vehicles after that! I can't
even imagine being in a rollover-it must have been absolutely
terrifying for him-I would certainly avoid cars in that
situation for quite a long time if I had the option. Maybe since
he doesn't have control of whether he can go in the car or not-
he's expressing his fears with bikes, etc. Does he need to see a
therapist? Can't hurt-and could really help.
My daughter is suddenly afraid of a lot of familiar things.
She's afraid of the front door, her room, the dark, the living
room, outside... It's usually when these places are dark-ish
(even before dusk as the light begins to wane is scary for
her), but not neccesarily. It's not that I think being afraid
of the dark is abnormal, just for her it is. Last week - in
fact, her entire life - she wasn't afraid of the dark but now
she is. How do I help her get past this? What's it all about?
We had another baby about 5 months ago and he sleeps in our
room every night. I can see that this new fear could possibly
be a strategy for sleeping with the 3 of us in our room; but
she's not just scared at bedtime or about her bedroom. She's
been scared of the stained glass window on our front door in
Both my kids developed fears around the time they turned four.
Fear of the dark, night-shadows, night-sounds, racoons, barking
dogs, etc. and both had nightmares around that time too. Things
they were never afraid of before. Both grew out of it within a
few months although it did mean quite a few nights of going in
and reassuring them that they were safe and yes, sometimes
bringing them into our bed for the night. There is a series of
books called ''Your One Year Old'', ''Your Two Year Old'', etc. by
Louise Bates Ames and Carol Chase Haber. I believe it was in
''Your Four Year Old'' that they discussed the developmental stage
that kids go through around their fourth year and the fearful
stage that is a normal part of their development. Reading their
books has really helped me get through the expected developmental
changes that we don't expect as parents.
All Sleeping Soundly Now
My son, now 6, became very afraid of the dark at around this age.
He isn't afraid anymore, so I think it is something that is
common at that age. He was afraid of the dark closet and the
dark corners in his room. He said he had bad dreams. We brought
in some extra lamps and illuminated all the corners - just
inexpensive nightlight type lamps that take a very low wattage
bulb. Ikea has some good ones. We left the closet light on all
night. So the overhead light wasn't on, but there were no dark
patches. That helped. When he came into our room, we'd just walk
him back to his bed and tuck him in and make sure there no dark
places that were bothering him. Getting him a dreamcatcher to
hang over his bed and reading a story about dreamcatchers really
helped a lot (he felt it protected him from the bad dreams).
Hope that helps!
I think it's developmental. My daughter also had no problem
with the dark when she was younger, and in fact wanted the room
pitch black when she went to sleep. Right around the time she
turned four, she also suddenly became afraid. I've been
dealing with it by leaving the hall light on for her, but not
her room light as she requests because it keeps her up. Good
this page was last updated: Jul 31, 2012
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2014 Berkeley Parents Network