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Two year old worries - what's normal and how's best to respond

(7 Posts)
HJBeans Mon 10-Aug-15 22:09:46

DS has just turned 2 and is a confident, happy boy most of the town. He's always been a bit shy and cautious - taking a while to warm up in new places / with new people and watching before joining in with new activities. He's recently gotten extremely fearful of certain things to the extent he fixates on these fears for hours and wants to stay indoors rather than risk encountering these things.

Examples: we're currently on holiday with family at a small lake with other families around. He enjoyed playing down at the beach very much the first several days, but now is so worried he'll see a dog there, as he did the first day, that he nearly refuses to play there saying "home to the house, no dog" again and again. We can distract him a bit, but the subject keeps coming up until we go back to the house. Today I said we only had a few hours to play before a storm was due and we had to leave bright blue skies because of repeated "inside! No storm!" We didn't know he knew the word storm and he's never been scared of weather before.

His language and his memory has come on leaps and bounds lately, and I suspect his capacity to worry has just come along in turn, but I'd be eager to know if this is par for the course and what the best response is. Usually with fears I say it's ok to be scared and tell him how his dad and I will make sure he's safe. "if a dog comes, we'll pick you up". But I find with this extreme fearfulness I'm saying "there's nothing to worry about, you're ok" when he clearly feels anything but. And I worry both about forcing him to stay out if he's scared and reinforcing the idea that we're only safe inside by going in. Any advice very gratefully received!

TheCowThatLaughs Mon 10-Aug-15 22:13:42

Did he actually know what the storm was, or did he pick up from yiu that it was something bad, by your body language and tone of voice maybe?

HJBeans Mon 10-Aug-15 22:29:58

Really not sure. I explained that storm meant raining and he said "no raining!" I don't think I sounded fearful about the storm - just matter of fact that we needed to get to the beach soon if he wanted to play as it would storm later.

I suppose a useful bit of info in terms of my own responses is that I've got some issues with anxiety as does my mother. I'm trying hard not to pass on worries, but I suppose he could easily be getting vibes that the world's not as safe as it could be from me.

BlinkAndMiss Tue 11-Aug-15 09:28:42

My DS is 2yrs and 8 months and is very similar. I think it's totally normal and I've found that he picks up on my tone and body language so like the Pp said, it's probably that. I didn't realise this at first but he's incredibly sensitive to it, he has developed fears and I've just skimmed over them rather than dwelling. When he tells me he's scared of things I just make sure he knows I'm there, I give him a bit of a safety net (so like you said - tell him you'll pick him up if there is a dog, I'll say we can go back to the car etc) so he knows he can get away from the stressor of it's too much for him. But most importantly I keep very breezy in my tone and smile a lot so he starts to question his fears himself. I found he listens to conversations with other people, so even expressing distain at something has an impression on him and he copies!

Another tactic I've been trying is introducing the concept of how long things can take. For instance, I've been using the phrase 'very quick' a lot and giving him examples when he's playing so he knows how long 'very quick' actually is. That way, when I need him to do something that he appears to be scared of I tell him we'll be 'very quick' and he knows that he won't be in a fearful situation for long. This makes him more wiling to do things that he thinks he's scared of.

When it comes to things like the weather I'd expose him to it more frequently to make the experience enjoyable. When it rains sit at the window, talk about the lovely sounds and how it smells etc. once he's comfortable point to the 'stormy clouds' and talk about how pretty they are. This way he's looking at them when he's relaxed and intrigued and much more likely to be positive about them.

My DS is starting to be influenced by what he watches on tv, there was recently an episode of Bing where Bing is scared of fireworks and he has spend days telling me he's scared of fireworks. The problem at this age is that they don't always pay attention to the whole of a story, so they pick up on the fear element at the beginning but don't listen to the resolution. My DS had no idea that there was a happy ending to that episode, he stopped watching and even though I explained it to him it didn't really have an effect.

This is a lot longer than I meant it to be, but this is what we're trying to battle with at the moment so just wanted to share what we'd found. I hope you find something that works soon, I'm hoping it'll pass quite soon and I'm sure it will. From what I understand it's completely normal and just shows that they are becoming more and more aware of the world around them.

HJBeans Tue 11-Aug-15 14:04:34

Thanks very much for your reply - I'll put some of your advice into action today. After posting last night, DS woke in an absolute panic (after a very tricky getting-to-sleep) and wouldn't calm at all unless his dad stayed with him. Ended up taking him into our room for the night and after about 15 minutes of repeated sobs and wails, he seemed to snap out of it and was himself again. I wondered if it might be a night terror, as he was absolutely beside himself and then in a blink completely normal. I asked him if he remembered waking up scared once he seemed himself and all he would say was 'no storm'. :-(

DangerGrouse Tue 11-Aug-15 15:10:07

I'm no expert but surely if you're telling him you'll pick him up when you see a dog is confirming his fears that dogs are dangerous and he needs to be shielded from them...?
I did a bit of study into phobias and anxieties esp in children and to cure them you need to expose them to the object of their fear coupled with loads of good feelings and confidence, and also start off with that object being small and harmless. So a puppy for example or even a photo or a YouTube video of a happy dog. All with loads of positive happy things going on around him to reinforce good feelings around the object of fear.
I realise you're on holiday so not loads of time to do this but maybe some distraction as well but definitely not telling him that dogs are something he needs protecting from. No wonder he's scared!

HJBeans Tue 11-Aug-15 18:57:31

Thanks for the reply. We have tried having happy times with dogs when the dogs are well controlled and he can approach on his own terms and he has gotten a bit less nervous about them.

Here there are lots of unknown and rambunctious dogs which are one and half times his size before they jump up, so I don't feel it's unreasonable for him to want to be higher than they are and will never make him stay in a situation he feels insecure in if he's reaching to me for help.

What little I've read about toddler fears has emphasised that tough-it-out style exposure doesn't work and that the should always get to encounter the feared thing from a place of security.

What you mention about perpetuating worry by acting as if it's well founded is something I'm unsure about when it's the potential of seeing a thing that's scary rather than the actual encounter itself. I.e. - there might be a dog, so I need to spend all day in the house. I don't want to reinforce the fear, but also don't want to make light of or ignore it.

BlinkAndMiss's suggestions of making sure he understands the route to security if scary things happen as well as working on communicating how long the scary encounter might last seem really useful to me in that regard, as well as both your suggestion of making pleasant associations with the scary thing. Thanks again.

Today's scary thing: there might be a car coming. Played out with toys for twenty minutes before walk time, then upset before heading down for the walk. No amount of 'we'll step out of the road if a car comes' - no pavements here - helped, but he wasn't so distressed as with yesterday's fears. It's like he's suddenly grasped that things can potentially happen, rather than that they just do.

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