Sometimes I wish my adventurous twosome would have more fear of injuries and strangers. Just the other night I walked into the hallway to see MJ using a tall kitchen stool in an attempt to get over the baby gate. Luckily, she was caught in time and didn’t learn the hard way that she is by no means graceful enough to get over the baby gate unscathed. Of course, there are times when I feel like a helicopter mom at the park because Z doesn’t realize that down-climbing the rock wall from the top of the jungle gym is not a three-year-old skill, especially for the twin who regularly walks into walls. I don’t want to instill fear into my girls; I want cautiously brave girls that will try things little by little until they build up their skills (which of course isn’t developmentally appropriate for a toddler, but a mom can wish right?!)
Naturally, my worries and overprotection fade away when my girls have irrational fears, and I am often baffled by the fear because I just cannot see anything to fear on my own. Like the shadows on the wall that only seem scary after the Berenstain Bears book where Sister is afraid of shadows. Then there was the phase of flies leading to meltdowns. (Have you spent a summer in rural New England? You might as well stay locked inside for six months if you are afraid of flies. This was a consideration for a while!) And don’t get me started on ticks; the rational fear would lead a grown up to avoid tick-infested grasses and woods, but the irrational toddler fear leads little girls to fight and bawl when a tick is removed. Practice some deep breathing and repeat this mantra, “It’s only a phase, all kids go through phases.” Then equip yourself with a few tools that have helped our family survive a variety of fears from bugs to blankets to friendly strangers to fluffy dogs to mascots to haircuts.
Helping Your Twins with Irrational Fears
Create a Mantra for the Fear
We worked with both girls to repeat, “I’m brave. I don’t like bugs, but I can deal with them.” This does some great things for self-confidence by repeating the positive character traits. At the same time, it acknowledges their fear and gives the child something to do or say other than the natural reaction of crying.
Fake it Until You Make it
I am not a fan of spiders, so it was very evident that when I screamed before killing a spider in our house, and then my girls cried every time they saw a spider for the next month, that I had made a mistake. I needed to repair that perception and learn to hide my own dislikes/fears. I did much better when tick season came around. My girls would hear my bubbly voice say, “Bug check! We need to make sure we aren’t taking any ticks or bugs in the house!” When in my head I was saying, “Please, please, please don’t let me find any ticks! I can’t handle Lyme disease! Yuck! Yuck! Yuck!” This helped us go from MJ flailing and bawling to the point where it took two adults to remove the tick from her bellybutton, to MJ willingly spinning around while I discreetly remove any ticks before they attached.
At this point, I do believe we have successfully moved into the realm of the parents having the hidden fear of ticks that is far greater than the children’s fear of ticks. But the girls do know to be cautious of tick-infested areas because a long “bug check” can interfere with play time.
Preview Books and Shows
Sometimes the books and TV shows that are intended to help give children the tools to overcome their fears are actually the sources of a new fear. Often my girls will imitate Daniel Tiger after watching him being scared of shadows just to hear me sing, “See what it is, you might feel better!” So look ahead and decide if their favorite book or TV character is experiencing a fear you don’t wish to create, then keep this out of sight for the time being. The tools and techniques to overcome the fear may be useful at a later time, but there is no need to teach your child how to overcome a fear that they didn’t realize could be a fear until the lesson.
On the other hand, educational books can help children to understand and become comfortable with their fears. Diary of a Worm and Buzz Boy and Fly Guy books helped my girls see bugs as a character they enjoyed, which helped with seeing bugs outside. If the irrational fear is painted in a positive light, this will give you the opportunity to have good conversations with your children about how to handle the fear, and teaching different perspectives is always a positive thing with children.
Big kids role modeling
For our epic fly fear last summer I tried to role model good behavior and a calm attitude around flies, but I got minimal results. I tried pointing out how well the girls’ peers were doing and we all sang “Shoo Fly”, which slowed the hysterical crying. But the golden ticket for my girls was finding big kids that my girls really looked up to for role modeling. Some of our good friends stayed the night with us and their children were all 4-8 years older than my girls. Just one evening of pointing out how calm they were with the flies, and them saying flies don’t bother them, was all we needed to go from nearly hyperventilating when a fly was in the house to brushing away flies to continue playing.
Remember to Differentiate
Take advantage of the fact the irrational fears are an individual struggle most of the time. Be careful not to project the fear onto both twins and cause double the headache when you can use the calm twin as a positive example of how to act during a stressful situation. Both twins benefit from this because they love to be praised for good behavior that comes naturally and they can easily see how siblings act to learn themselves.
Lie if Needed
Ok, I get it, lying to your children is a bad habit to get into. But sometimes it works as a placebo effect and gives your child the jumpstart needed to get over the fear. Speaking from the child’s perspective, it’s easy to forget and forgive lies that help you cope when you’re little. Case in point: my cousin Michelle is one of my favorite people and the story about her giving me a “magic popple” when I was little to help me get over a crazy dream makes me laugh and love her more. So on the third night of Z crying every 10 minutes for a few hours because she thought there was something in her bed, I followed my cousin’s example and created a “magic blanket” and it worked like a charm. Bedtime is easier with the magic blanket and we had very few middle of the night calls once the magic blanket was established.
Twiniversity Tip: Many kids can benefit from a weighted blanket at bedtime. It helps them to calm at night and feel more safe! Make sure to get the right weight for your child’s size.
Remember – you can handle this phase! And you can help shorten this phase with a little creativity and calm reassurance. Don’t hesitate to document this phase however you like because it can be fun to reminisce for both the parents and the children. The ability to laugh at yourself and your situation will take you a long way in parenting.
Becca Heldreth is the mother to 18-month-old fraternal twin girls. She has a master’s degree in education and is currently able to teach from home. Her class of two toddler girls and one dog is quite an adventure. Lessons are certainly more focused on sharing and petting the dog gently than on factoring polynomials. Becca and her husband pass along their passion for the outdoors to their twins through trips to the bouldering room, hiking trails, and bike rides.