Koopa has a lot of fears. As he gets older, he outgrows some of them but acquires new ones. At this point, he probably has more fears than he ever did before.
Like most kids, he is at least suspicious of all doctors (except for the dentist, of course, whose job is mainly to praise you on the many wonderful teeth that you grew, and hand you a new toothbrush on every visit.)
He is scared of public bathrooms, and any unfamiliar toilets in general. This one is kind of a problem, actually, because that means we can’t go out anywhere for longer than a couple of hours.
He is afraid of all loud noises: vacuum cleaner, blender, dryer (he is more ok with the dryer now especially if he is the one to turn it on), hand dryer in public washrooms. He has to not be in the vicinity of these devices when they’re operated.
He is easily startled by motorcycles and emergency sirens starting.
He does not like bath because he is afraid of “lots of water”, so he only takes a shower.
He doesn’t like crowds of people, especially crowds of kids. His personal hell seems to be those huge inflatable playgrounds with crowds of kids all over them. He simply refuses to go near one.
He was afraid of slides in general until he was about 2.5, and even now he is very careful with them.
It seems that it’s very important for him to know that he is not alone in his fears, and that there are lots of other people who are afraid of the same things, or even have other fears. We would be walking along the street, and he would tell me something like “Mom, that motorcycle scared me! Did it scare you too?” (“Мам, я испугался мотоцикла, ты тоже?”). One time I was taking him out of the shower and he said, “I don’t like lots of water! Do you?” (“Я не люблю много воды. Ты тоже?”). I admitted that I occasionally like “lots of water” but mostly I prefer to take a shower too, but he’s allowed to not like bath. He concludes decisively “We don’t like lots of water! Only papa does.”
I vividly remember a long conversation he had with his uncle Grisha when he visited in June, about who is afraid of what. Koopa admitted that he was afraid of toilets and blenders. Grisha admitted that he was also afraid of some things. Whenever Grisha admitted that he was afraid of something, Koopa listened intently and seemed to take in every word. It was clearly very important to him to hear that a grown up man like Grisha was also afraid of some things. There was even one thing that Koopa said he wasn’t afraid of and it turns out that Grisha was: Koopa was not afraid to be a firefighter!
I used to get influenced by social pressures and spend a lot of time thinking how to help him get over his “irrational” fears. I’ve grown since. If you think about it, adult fears are no more rational than children’s fears. Me, for instance, I have quite a few “irrational” fears. I’m scared of flying. That’s just a fact about me. This is new, I didn’t used to be afraid of it. Maybe its a mom thing. Flying is not fun for me, especially over the ocean. I have a claustrophobia. If for a split second I think that the airplane bathroom door is not opening, I lose it. I am TERRIFIED of small caves (or even big ones, for that matter). Like Koopa, I was also relieved to know that there are lots of people in the world who are also afraid of these things. This gives me reasons to hope that I’m not a freak.
I used to think that providing enough information would help to get rid of the fear, even if gradually. Explain to them what doctors do, why lots of water in the bath is not dangerous, and why the vacuum cleaner won’t kill you, conclude with a cheerful “there is nothing to be scared of!” and the fear will magically disappear, dissolve in the air. Doesn’t work like that. Doesn’t work with adults either. I know very well that its much easier to get killed crossing the street in Montreal than taking a plane. Does knowing it help me? Not at all. I’m still as uncomfortable flying. I also know that nothing bad can happen to me in a locked airplane bathroom or in a cave, but this knowledge does not ease my fear even a little bit. By the way, Koopa doesn’t know it of course, but a lot more accidents happen to children in bathtubs (or any bodies of water) than to people taking airplanes. So, in that sense, his fear is much less irrational than mine.
So while I do hope that his fears will not prevent him from enjoying life, I decided that my job is not to help him get rid of them, but reassure him that it is completely normal to be anxious about things or to be scared of them, that he is not alone, and that it doesn’t make him inadequate in any way to have these fears.
The other day he watched an old video of himself taking a bath when he was little and still enjoyed it. I could see that he was uncomfortable with it, and he asked me to turn it off halfway through. I realized that he spent quite some time thinking about it, and puzzling over the question how come he was not scared of bath when he was little, and now being a big boy, he was, because the next day he said to me: “Mama, big boys don’t like lots of water, do they?” (“Мама, правда большие мальчики не любят много воды?”). I had no choice but to agree. See, Koopa, sometimes grown-ass ladies like me are scared of planes and caves, and they didn’t use to when they were little!
|“Are you scared to be a firefighter?”