April 20, 2018

Confession time: as a child, I was terrified of the martians on Sesame Street. So terrified, in fact, that as an adult I remember how I felt when they popped up on the screen. Does this mean that I developed into an anxious and fearful adult? Not in the least! Seemingly irrational fears are very common in children under the age of five and interestingly enough are very specific to the developmental stage of the child. The most common developmental fears are as follows:

9-18 months: Strangers
18-24 months: Loud noises, animals, and doctors
24-30 months: Darkness, the toilet, and people dressed in masks/costumes
30-36 months: Imaginary creatures; injury, and harm

So what exactly is happening in their brains to cause these fears? Let’s think about this in relation to the two-year-old set. Around two years of age, as a result of cognitive development, a child’s imagination is beginning to grow. This often means they will begin to imagine things they cannot see. While they are constantly exploring and learning about the world, they have yet to develop the ability to fully separate fantasy from reality or the possible from the impossible. (Fun fact, this is also one of the reasons why they LOVE pretend play so much!) At this age they are also very aware of the fact that they are very little people in a big world. So if, for instance, a large costumed character is towering over a wildly imaginative 20-month-old, you might now be able to imagine how small and terrified that child might feel.

So why am I talking about fears this week? Well, here at the Museum we are preparing for our Renaissance Faire (Saturday, April 28)! This is going to be an exciting event with lots of special activities for all ages (even the grown-ups!). As part of the festival we will be featuring a 20-foot-long dragon puppet that will circle designated part of the Museum and lead visitors downstairs to a marionette show, and I wanted to be sure that you all have the tools needed to support your little ones if they do indeed have fears in this area.

Explain it and discuss it beforehand. Let your child know that there will be marionettes. Marionettes are like puppets and are controlled by people. You can play with puppets while talking about them. Having a positive memory associated with puppets might help. “Remember when we played with the puppets at home?” is a prompt you can provide if your child begins to display signs of fear.

Give them control. The more power you give them to let them feel in control of their world, the better they’ll do.

Be sure to respect their feelings. “The best way to get a child to listen to you and learn to overcome any strong feelings is to tell him that it’s okay to have such feelings; that you have them, too, sometimes,” says Robert Sears, MD, coauthor of The Baby Book (Little, Brown).

Don’t force it. If in the moment your child’s body language is telling you they are terrified, it is ok to find something else to do. “Ok, let’s go play with the bubbles. Maybe we can try the marionettes another time.”

We hope you will join us for the festivities! If attending with children that might have some fears, be sure to keep an ear open for an announcement and an eye out for footprints will denote the dragon’s path.

Questions? Comments? Stories to share? I would love to hear from you! Use the hashtag #PlayIQwithDCM on our social media platforms so that I can see and respond!