Four-Year Old Fear

My four-year old seems to have developed a fear of…. well, everything.

Okay, so not actually everything.  But anything that could remotely be construed as scary?  He’s scared of it.  This kid who handles the dentist with more bravado than I’ve ever even thought about is reduced to tears at the strangest and most benign things.  And I don’t really know what to do or how to deal with it.

Last night we went to a local pumpkin patch.  This particular pumpkin patch does have some mildly scary elements, such as a fairly comical animatronic Freddy Krueger at the entrance.  It barely even looks like a real person, but because its head moves and it talks and has an ugly face, Cole is deathly afraid of it.  He literally cowered behind us to get past this thing.  But the fear didn’t stop once we got past Freddy.  It seemed like every nook and cranny of this place was fraught with peril.  Inflatable spider with a moving head?  Terror.  Cartoonish Dracula slooooowly arising from his inflatable coffin?  Imminent death.  Completely stationary plastic black cat at the last turn of the three-foot high cardboard maze?  Drag me to hell.

Seriously.  He would not turn the last corner of this little maze until Zac walked all the way around the outside of the maze, leaned over the barrier, and blocked it with his arm.  Then and only then did Cole light out of there like he stole something, tears welling in his eyes.  It was simultaneously heartbreaking and so frustrating.  Why is my little boy suddenly paralyzed by fear of things that he KNOWS are not real?  We talk with him all the time about how monsters and ghosts and zombies are not real, that they are made up for fun.  We’ve never told him that there are monsters under his bed or ghosts in the closet.  One of his favorite movies is Monsters, Inc.  He knows that those monsters are pretend and thinks they are hilarious.  So why can an obviously fake inflatable Dracula make him quake in his boots, and why can a plastic black cat sitting in front of a black sheet reduce him to tears?

We told him last night in the maze that he needed to be brave and just walk past the plastic cat.  He knows karate, we reminded him, and he can protect himself and roundhouse that cat.  But he couldn’t make himself walk past it.  He tried, Lord he tried.  Each time his little chin wrinkled and he looked over at us with such a desperate face.  When he finally made it to the exit, he ran out and wiped away his yet to fall tears, saying quietly to himself, “I’m not brave.”  Heart:  shattered.

I don’t know if we handled it correctly.  I’m inclined to say no, we didn’t.  Of course we didn’t make fun of him or chastise him in any way, but I’m not sure that we made him feel like his feelings were valid either.  We are both very rational people, and I have to constantly remind myself that children are irrational and sometimes things can’t be explained enough to assuage their fears.  We did tell him that he was a brave boy, that he was smart and funny and generally an awesome kid and that being scared didn’t change any of that.  We reaffirmed that we would not let anything hurt him.  But nothing seemed to ease his mind.  And of course we had to walk past Freddy Krueger on the way out, which had him scrambling around us to get away from him.

I just don’t know what to do.  Is it a phase?  I mean, obviously he won’t be heading off to college still scared of inflatable Draculas {hopefully}, but I hate to think that his fear might get in the way of him enjoying normal childhood activities with his friends.  Pumpkin patches, fall festivals, hayrides, bonfires.  I don’t want my son to sit on the sidelines because he is afraid.

Sigh.  I guess I can just hope we handle it better next time.  Because I’m sure there will be a next time.

But we did pet some bunnies.

And act silly with Brother.

…and Dad.

So all in all, a good night.

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