Rating: Knowledgeability Clarity of Response Timeliness Politeness
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Subject: 5 year old scared of everything
QUESTION: I have 5 year old twins. One of them, Morgan, is extremely afraid of lots of things. This has been going on for over a year and is getting continually worse. It has gotten to the point that it is severly affecting her ability to do things, and disrupting the whole family.
She is afraid of thunderstorms, toilets, being locked in, being left, elevators, the dark, water...just to name a few. When she gets scared, she become hysterical and nothing can calm her. We've tried all the usual things, rewards, just holding her, explaining she is safe, teaching her breathing techniques,etc. Nothing works. Lately, my husband and I have become so frustrated that we are getting angry with her. Being stern and basically threatening her with punishment is the only thing that can get her somewhat under control. She still shakes and cries but the hysteria stops.
I know this can't be right. Using fear of punishment to control another fear cannot be a good parenting technique. But we don't know what else to do. She is in a loving stable home and nothing traumatic that we know of has happened. Her twin has normal childhood fears but she can be dealt with in a normal manner. What should we do?"
ANSWER: Dear Kim, I am sorry you are so frustrated I am sure it must be hard to see her so upset. The first suggestion is to let go of your expectations. She cannot be someone different just to please her family and this is too much for a child to deal with ontop of obviously dealing with so much fear. All children are different and some are more sensitive and take more reassurance.
She sounds like she needs more soothing. It maybe "disrutptive" however that is what parenting is all about. It disrupts our lives. I would try letting her cry it out. Reassure her she is okay and then let the tears come and the hysteria. Let it roll. I think the more you try to stop it the more attention she gets and the more it gets reinforced. If you accept it and then just move to the next moment without all of the hoopla she may resolve it on her own.
I don't know if you have tried massage however it is great for lowering anxiety and highly recommend at least a daily massage. Also there is a great paperback parenting book call "The Sensitive Child." Very good read which should help you help her and understand her more. Sensitivit is a good thing. Help yourself and her to see that!
M Kay Keller
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
Dear Kay, Thank you for your response. However, I think you misunderstood what I was saying about her disrupting the whole family. I am not referring to her inconviencing me or my husband. I am talking about seriously affecting the lives of her brother and sister. Here is an example. Last week, we had a thunderstorm at night.
Morgan woke up in hysterics and despite the fact we went to her immediately and tried to comfort her, she ended up waking both siblings (her twin and her 1 year old bro). So my husband put her in our bed with him and I got the other two settled. For 2 hours she laid in our bed and we tried soothing her, rubbing her hair, patting her back, snuggling her, explaining the storm was almost over, etc., yet she continued with her hysterics to the point she woke up the siblings 2 more times. Finally at 4 am, the storm had been over for about 20 minutes and she wouldn't calm down. I got angry and told her she was going to her bed and she was staying there quietly.
She could NOT come back to our room and she could NOT wake up her siblings or she would not be allowed to play outside the next day. She was still scared, but she stopped the crying and went to her bed. I can give you example after example of this. We wanted to take the twins to the movies for their birthday. Morgan became extremely scared when we got there because the door closed behind us in the theater.
However, she made it clear having her stay at grandma's and taking the twin was out of the question too. I feel like I am punishing the other 2 kids in order to cater to Morgan's fears. That doesn't seem right to me. Do you have any futher thoughts or suggestions to share after this additional information?
Answer: Dear Kim, With this additional information I would encourage you to seek an assessment and evaluation from what is called an Infant Mental Health specialist. She maybe showing early symptoms of anxiety. IMHs are trained to assess Mental Health issues (which are not uncommon in twins) at the early ages of 0-5. Please don't freak out when you read this I am not saying she is Mentally Ill. I am saying she maybe showing symptoms of anxiety which is a common disorder in human beings. Think of it like she has something more than the flu but nothing as dramatic as a fatal illness. Do get her screened as they will be able to tell you more.
Thank you for writing to me and Best Wishes!
M Kay Keller