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Scared of Santa, Scooby, Spiderman, Peppa, clowns...

(13 Posts)
threelittlebigpigs Mon 08-Apr-13 20:42:56

My 4 year old DD has developed a phobia of anyone dressed in costume with their face covered and it seems to be getting worse. Over Christmas she could not be anywhere near Santa without her getting hysterical, for example, she ran away screaming when he turned up at the pre-school Christmas party.

Recently, there was an impromptu appearance of Scooby-Doo at an event we attended and she was bawling as soon as she heard the announcement that he would be arriving. She proceeded to hide her face away for the entire 15-20min he was in the room (it seemed like he was never going to leave). This has now meant she is also scared of announcements no matter what they are about and was crying her eyes out last week when we were at a soft-play and an announcement was made as I was paying the entrance fee. Cue floods of tears and her not wanting to go inside.

Yesterday we went to a party and some children were dressed as Spiderman with masks on, so she was in tears and didn't want to go inside and refused to participate in any games for half an hour, well after the time that all of the children had removed their masks.

The problem is worsened by the fact that she is a twin so it is not always easy/practical to leave places when she is upset as her sibling is usually very excited and keen to join in and see the character DD is screaming about. I have given DD loads of reassurance about people in costume. I talked endlessly about clowns (the fear which developed first), read stories with clowns in, encouraged dressing up games at home etc. When she gets upset, I am not sure if the best strategy is to calmly reassure her or leave (which I worry perpetuates the idea that there is something to fear). I would be really grateful if anyone who has experienced this with their child could give me any tips of the best way to deal with the problem. I am worried that when she starts school in September it will be difficult for her during certain events and want to help her to develop coping strategies for when I'm not around. Thanks.

stargirl1701 Mon 08-Apr-13 20:45:36

I don't have any advice but I feel quite distressed by people in masks, etc. I have had to leave training courses (I'm a teacher) because it involved role play with masks. It really disturbs me and I don't know why. I'm in my late 30s.

threelittlebigpigs Mon 08-Apr-13 21:08:23

Oh dear stargirl, that must be difficult for you - particularly because you cannot always anticipate when someone will be around wearing a mask. Is there anything that can help you when you get the distressed feeling or are you left with no alternative but to leave?

Nordicmom Mon 08-Apr-13 21:16:06

My DS had this same exact fear so badly that it made him visibly shake and hide and cry at the sight of anyone in a costume or with face paint on ,even a woman with more colourful makeup ! I think it was between 2-4 y about . I never forced him into a situation where he'd be scared . We avoided dress up parties etc after he spent one party with us miserable hiding in my lap for 2 h in a cold churchall and only got up when it was time to collect his partybag and leave. He didn't even care about the cake . All this because it was a pirates and Princesses party and ONE child had a little moustache ! Nursery used to not have facepainting when he attended for 2 aft a week . The other children knew he was scared and seemed to understand . He grew out of it after a few years and I'll always remember when he came out a holiday workshop with a little train drawn on his cheek and the time he let me draw a pirate moustache on him. I used to think exposing him to the thing he was afraid off would get him used to it but then I read that with phobias that is the wrong thing to do since it'll strengthen the fear and makes it worse . This is the one big fear my DS (8y now) has ever had and it's gone now . We didn't know anyone else like him but I know it's not unheard off . I do wonder what my DD 1y will be scared of . I'm really bad with heights but my DS doesn't care at all ...
I'm sure you're DD will also grow out this in a little while smile!

threelittlebigpigs Mon 08-Apr-13 21:30:05

Thanks for the reassurance Nordicmom, I'm really glad to hear that your DS grew out of the fear eventually. Funny that you should mention face painting because DD has always been scared of this too (I had long since given up trying to persuade her) but a month or two ago, at a party, she asked to have it done for the first time ever. It must be one small step in the right direction. From what you've said about strengthening the fear, it seems that avoiding certain events is the best idea. It's just the times when clowns pop up unannounced to try to deal with better.

MrsB74 Mon 08-Apr-13 21:52:09

Hi, no advice, just wanted to say that both my twin girls hate people dressed in character suits and Santa, they are 3 (nearly 4). We recently went to Disneyland Paris (thinking they'd have grown out of the fear) - they totally avoided Mickey, Minnie, the princesses etc. despite loving the toys, films and tv programmes. Thankfully they loved the rides and shows! No problems with face painting though, they love that. I'm just hoping they'll grow out of it, I suppose they are just dressed up strangers which is a bit freaky when you think about it!

sparkleshine Mon 08-Apr-13 22:39:34

My 3 year old DS also hates people dressing up as characters and has been since forever. He won't go near them. He used to be so bad that he'd cry and even now if he knows or sees them coming he will run straight back to us nearly in tears for a cuddle.
Rory the tiger at haven holidays was bad as he wouldn't join in with the toddler games cause he was there.
We've tried reassurance, we've tried gently easing him in or asking if he wants to meet them with us there. We've explained they aren't real and just people inside, don't quite understand why he doesn't like them.
But then he's soft anyway and doesn't quite have the balls to just go off and get stuck in to things ( unlike my friends 3yr old girl who has no fear)

Would love to take him to Disney land but at the moment there would be no point.
I've booked us to go see Ben and Holly's little kingdom live in June. Will see how that goes I think.

Nordicmom Tue 09-Apr-13 16:43:23

Oh yes ,at nursery the first year at 2+ my son had a fit when we tried to have him be a mouse in the play and he was the ONLY child sitting in the audience watching his own play ;)... The second year 3+ he actually dressed up as one of the 3 wise men ( no paints or masks in this play so he was fine) but didn't say a word . Afterwards Santa was still an issue though . Then in reception he not only was on the stage but spoke his lines .
I think most often kids seem to go through phases and have problems with eating or something else or phobias and then grow out of them eventually if they are not made an issue . I did used to think the desensitising to say a fear of water or this costumes and face paints thing would work but then read somewhere doing that repeatedly to a child who has a genuine fear will make the problem far worse and further traumatice them every time . I don't know ,advice on anything seems to always change but for us not pushing it and avoiding situations that we knew would upset him seemed to work and now DS can't even really remember that he was scared of these things and has loved dressing up and masks etc for years ! Your DD will grow out of this and it'll be fine smile.
To another subject my DS had horrible issues with food as a toddler and was super picky but also grew out of that and eats almost anything now . On the downside DD 1y has now entered this phase but at least I know it'll pass like everything else !

threelittlebigpigs Tue 09-Apr-13 22:07:56

MrsB74 - you were very brave risking Disneyland - I wouldn't have dared to have tried that with DD's current behaviour. Great that you all still enjoyed it, despite needing to avoid the dressed up characters. And yes, they do often look a bit freaky. I can't say that I love huge cartoon characters myself.

Sparkleshine - your DS sounds very similar to my DD. I am now mentally striking Haven Holiday Parks off the list of potential holiday destinations. I don't think Rory the tiger would go down well. Fingers crossed for you with Ben & Holly's Kingdom.

Nordicmom- interestingly, DD was also a super picky toddler who is now much better. Maybe it's all connected to sensory issues. I think I will follow your approach and avoid situations as much as possible, rather than hoping some exposure might help. In the run up to Christmas DD kept saying that she didn't want any presents because she didn't want to see Santa. I had to say he wouldn't come down the chimney because I was worried she was going to be terrified. At the moment she bursts into tears if she sees any elderly man in the street with a beard and yells that it's Father Christmas. I think we still have a way to go here...

Thanks everyone for your comments. Here's hoping that we will start to turn the corner at some point in the not too distant future.

SwissArmyWife Wed 10-Apr-13 19:29:27


SwissArmyWife Wed 10-Apr-13 19:44:35

Woops, didn't mean to post that grin

I just want to say, I have one fear and that is of people dressed up as characters. I've been scared of them for as long as I can remember, and many times as a child I almost got myself run over or lost because when I saw one, I would break free and run in the opposite direction. I remember a few occasions, particularly the day I was shopping with my parents and postman pat appeared, they tried to make it seem fun and tried getting me to wave at this huge, freaky character and it terrified me.
After that my mum would always be on the look out at fairs, parties etc and steer me away from them calmly and reassure me, and I expect she did try to avoid events that would involve people who were dressed up, but it's something you can't always avoid and I think the best thing to do is to put distance between your dd and the dressed up person, as when I was little all I wanted to do was to get away from them.
They still freak me out now but I am much better. However Disneyland is my worst nightmare grin

Most children do grow out of it, though, but I agree that trying to get your child to face their fear can make it a lot worse.

IWillOnlyEatBeans Wed 10-Apr-13 20:47:53

Another adult here with the same issue!

I could not get into my office one day as there were people dressed as Labradors in the foyer collecting money for charity. I had to call my boss who had to come down and ask them to wait in the security office until i was inside blush

I would say being sensitive to your dd's fear and not belittling it will help. Forcing her into situations where she is sacred probably won't

cory Wed 10-Apr-13 21:18:35

Dd was exactly the same. Guy Fawkes used to be a nightmare and I remember a North Sea crossing which involved a lot of shivering on deck with dd because the management of the ferry had decided it would be a good idea to place a staff member in the dolphin costume on duty in the reception area next to the stairs.

Funnily enough, dd is now heavily involved in her am dram club and is hoping to audition for stage school. And wears a layer of make-up.

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