Madison is in the three year old I'm Afraid stage right now. I wouldn't say she's afraid of everything - luckily some of the big ones, like the dark, haven't shown up yet - but she's got some pretty intense fears.
One of those fears is dogs.
She is afraid of big dogs, little dogs, jumpy dogs, calm dogs, dogs that bark and dogs that don't. We'll be talking about a friend of hers and how we should go play with him and she'll look at me with eyes full of fear and say but he has a doggie and I'm SCARED of the doggie.
Now this happened to come up with her pediatrician at her checkup and he assured us that fears are very, very normal for three year olds. Most will probably fade during the year. He stressed that we should not try to rationalize her out of them. Acknowledge she's afraid, assure her that we'll keep her safe, point out the good things about whatever she's afraid of, and help her get through the situation. Don't try to force it out of her.
So we're dealing with it. She's come across many dogs since this fear started, and we've focused on telling her we know she's afraid, but the dogs won't hurt her, and we're there to protect her, and afterward, we always talk about how she was very brave and made it through.
Today, after naptime, Madison wanted to walk down our shared driveway and visit the horses. We are lucky to have a next door neighbor with a horse farm, and we have an open invitation to visit the horses whenever we'd like. We've gone down many times, with friends and alone. Sometimes the girls want to feed or pet the horses, sometimes they only want to look at them, but our neighbors are incredibly accommodating.
As we walked down the driveway (with the girls riding in our wagon) I noted two things.
1) Our neighbors were not home.
2) Their five dogs were outside.
As we were about halfway down the long driveway, the dogs (German shepherds and Australian hounds) began to bark. Madison started to whimper, and I reminded her that the dogs were behind the fence. They were barking because they were afraid of us. We were coming to their house. I asked if she still wanted to visit. She did.
We saw both horses in their stables, and I pulled the wagon close. We waved to the barking dogs, still behind the gate, and started our horse visit. Madison decided to stay in the wagon and talk to the horses, and I pulled Reagan out to pet the horses.
Then things got a lot noisier.
One of the dogs jumped the fence and came toward us, barking his head off and letting us know that he wanted us to get off his property.
***IMPORTANT NOTE: THE DOG WAS IN NO WAY AGGRESSIVE. HE DID NOT ATTACK. WE WERE ON HIS PROPERTY AND HIS OWNERS WERE NOT AROUND. HE WAS PROTECTING HIS HOME. I DO NOT BLAME THE DOG. I JUST DIDN'T REALIZE HE HAD THE ABILITY TO GET OUT OF HIS FENCED AREA.***
Madison turned chalk white, then green with fear. I spoke firmly to the dog, telling him to go back, and carefully loaded Reagan back into the wagon to leave.
The entire way up the driveway, the dog followed us at a distance and continued to bark like crazy (as did his brothers and sisters behind the fence). Madison kept crying for me to yell at the doggie again and asking why he was so mean and that she never wanted to go back there again.
Oops. That visit backfired big time.
Well after that, I tried to get the girls interested in playing on the driveway, but Madison could still hear the dog (he was still barking, even though he'd retreated back to the house) and she wanted to go to our backyard where "he couldn't find us". Fine.
Except a few days ago I noticed a large spider spinning a large web on the patio.
I have a serious fear of spiders. Serious. Take the dog fear and multiply it by about thirty years.
Don't try to rationalize to me how spiders are our friends and part of the grand circle of life. I understand that my fear is totally irrational. My brain doesn't process it that way.
I really, really, really did not want to be anywhere near the patio. I know I have to be the grown up, but I really didn't want to go anywhere near that spider.
So I tried to get the girls playing on the playscape.
But the playscape gets afternoon sun and even though the air temperature was beautiful today, the slides were hot and the girls quickly lost interest.
And they migrated to the patio, the water table, and the assorted toys we keep outside.
Well, the spider wasn't on the web, and I figured as long as I stayed off to the side away from the web I could be brave.
I dumped the water table (spider free) and filled it up again from the hose (hose box spider free too). I asked Madison to get the toys (see, I'm a chicken. They were sort of close to the web. But I probably would have put her in charge of that anyway). Fine.
Madison brought the majority of the tea set over, and she and Reagan started playing.
Then Madison, as is typical, started hoarding all the pieces. She wanted all the plates, all the cups, whatever. Reagan started to cry as Madison snatched a spoon out of her hand.
I admonished Madison, gave Reagan the spoon, and spotted a few more pieces laying off to the side - not on the patio, but in the grass. I called to Reagan, started to pick up a cup....
(can you guess where this is going)
...and an enormous wood spider crawled out of it.
While it was in my HAND.
Naturally I shrieked, threw the cup, and darted back to the driveway with Reagan. I blamed Reagan's wet diaper (and getting a fake scrape to justify my scream), and called Madison to come inside with us.
Madison Fear Factor: FAIL.
Mommy Fear Factor: FAIL.
I think we'll be playing inside tomorrow. We can be brave another day.
How do you process your own fears? How do you help your children process theirs?