Toddler Fears

Almost a year ago to the day, I wrote the following post on a blog I kept just for me, regarding my oldest, Nora, who was almost three at the time it was written.

I remember clearly the first time Nora showed fear. She was probably 14 or 15 months old. We were getting out of the car at our place after driving home one night from my parents’ house. The moon was full and bright and low in the sky. I wrangled Nora out of her car seat, held her in my arms and looked up at the night sky. “Oooh, Nora!” I exclaimed loudly. “Look up at the moon, honey! Isn’t it beautiful?”

She stared up in wonder at the moon, shocked that she should find it there in the sky, in real life, and not just as a two-dimensional crescent or circle on the pages of one of her beloved board books. She promptly began crying and tucked her head into my shoulder, as if I had offended her gravely with my offer to see something so special.

For months after I couldn’t mention the moon on nightly walks around the neighborhood, or on trips in and out of the car, unless I wanted to hear her sob or watch her walk with her head forced down, unwilling to look up and admit that the moon was a real thing, putting out light to brighten the night sky.

Months later, on another drive home from my parents’ place, she said from the safety of her car seat , “Look, mama! It’s the moon!” Apparently, she was ready to make peace with the sliver in the sky. It’s been over a year since that time. Nora still likes to comment on the moon from inside the car, but continues to shy away from watching it on walks up to the porch. Major avoidance. Totally cracks me up.

As she moved further into toddlerhood, there were more concerns to be had. When Liam or I got a headache, a cold, or generally felt less than 100% Nora’s questions offered insight into her worries. “Why mama’s not feeling good? But she’s going to get better, right?” And, when we said goodbye before leaving for work: “You’re going to come back, right?”

And if real life triggers weren’t enough, we’ve dealt with our fair share of fictional encounters too. We have several books at home that have been relegated to the basement because of their “scary” content.

Take, for example, Goodnight Gorilla, a seemingly harmless story about a silly gorilla who steals the zookeeper’s keys and unlocks all of his animal friends. They later sneak into bed with the zookeeper and his unsuspecting wife. She turns out the lights and wakes up moments later when several of the animals wish her good night back. Nora HATED the page (below) with the eyes lit up in the dark. For many nights we had to skip that page, and then we just couldn’t read it anymore at all. It was too traumatic. Six months later, we couldn’t even read another of my favorites, 10 Minutes ’til Bedtime, also by Peggy Rathman, because the same gorilla appears on the pages mid-book. After all that time, she still remembered!

Here’s another image of the kind of illustrated facial expression we have to avoid in our kiddie lit. This one is from Mary Had a Little Lamb. I know, horrific, right? But, because the lamb is being naughty in school and the girl has a surprised expression, it got nixed from the rotation.

Also out (and these are just a select few; there are more): The Napping House (a little boy wears a shocked expression when the flea wakes him up), Goldilocks and the Three Bears (apparently Goldilocks looks too naughty and therefore, is scary), and Lola Loves Stories (actually we can read this one, we just have to skip the page where the stuffed cow gets a boo-boo).

Should I be concerned that my daughter gets so concerned about these things? I don’t know. I get that she is sensitive and already very empathetic. Hmmm…sounds like someone else I know—me. OK, given my anxieties, maybe I should be concerned. We’ll just have to see how this all plays out.

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