Monday, September 26, 2011

Things That Go "Bump!" in the Night

What's up everyone?

Today I am happy to bring you my third article as Contributing Writer to the great national Canadian family magazine What's UP. Learn more about this great publication here!

This is an article featured in the publication's Baby Steps section entitled "Things That Go 'Bump!' in the Night" and explores how to help toddlers and preschoolers cope with their fears, especially as Halloween approaches.


"Did I just hear a scary noise!?"




The article is featured in the magazine's Fall issue, on newsstands across Canada now! (Check out Indigo/Chapters and Shoppers Drug Mart.)




What's UP Magazine's Fall, 2011 Cover


As this is a two-page feature, the on-line version on the What's UP website has been shortened. It can be found here.
Below, I bring you the full-length article. It is slightly different than the print version as some slight edits were made. I tend to write a little over spec! But please go buy it or subscribe. It is really inexpensive!



I would like to thank Erin, Sarah, Monica, Jill, and Esther for their help and support on this one. Gratitude to you all!

And please stay tuned! I am already starting work on my next feature article for What's UP!

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Things That Go “Bump!” in the Night

By: Lora Rossi

(What’s UP Magazine – Fall, 2011)



I’m afraid of spiders. I mean, I am really petrified of them. It does not matter that they have no ability whatsoever to harm me. They frighten the bejesus out of me.  Even the little plastic ones that my boys insist on hanging everywhere around the outside of my house as Halloween approaches. Funny enough, they are not too enamored with them either – but now that they are seven and ten, somehow scaring mom trumps their fears!



Of course, I hardly wonder where they got their spider anxiety from. I do wonder though, just how young were they when their fear started? I now have another little boy who will not yet be a year old when Halloween comes around and I ponder what he will quietly take in with all the ghosts and goblins, scary noises and creepy crawlies at every turn?  How much will he really comprehend? How much exposure to all of this “Halloween fun” is appropriate and healthy for very young children?

Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. Even the smallest of them. Babies and toddlers pick up on cues probably with more intensity than anyone else because that is how they are programmed to learn. This is how they absorb entire languages, learn to walk and pick up how to manipulate their parents to often get exactly what they want. (It is a wonder that a 2 year old isn’t the leader of the free world now that I think about it!)

But seriously, fear is a very real and distressing emotion that we all experience and for babies and toddlers, it is a complex one.  Due to the fact that very young children are not fully armed with the knowledge and experience to understand exactly what they are experiencing, being afraid is a confusing experience for them and one that can be equally as bewildering for parents and caregivers to help them with. Simply explaining to children the irrationality of being afraid of a loud noise, “silly” Halloween decorations or a person in a costume is much harder than it may seem on the surface. 



I speak from personal experience. I have three little boys and my middle son Noah, so far the most mischievous and daring of the bunch, has had some seemingly irrational but lingering fears of both the toilet and of ceiling fans. 


 While trying to get him out of diapers, he thought the toilet was going to flush him down the drain and he was also afraid that ceiling fans would somehow whoosh down and attack him.  This was puzzling to us as parents because it seemed so contradictory to his usual gutsy demeanor.



But I do recall that when at 2 years old, we could not get him out of the front door in his cute little bear costume because the sight and sounds of all the Halloween revelers alarmed him. Everything looked strange and different through his eyes and he was most comfortable behind the safety of our front door.



Esther Bartkiw, a Burlington, Ontario-based Core Belief Engineering Psychotherapist specializing in helping people dissolve their fears, states that it is normal and common for very young children to have fears. Bartkiw continues: “Fear is a method of self-protection from danger or the unknown. In some respects fear is good.” We have all been told to teach our children about “stranger danger”, and so really, fear of something foreign is a naturally intuitive and healthy part of a young child’s learning process. 

“Fears are also absorbed from other people and outside sources,” continues Bartkiw. “Television, books and computers are full of images and story lines which a child can interpret as fearful (especially as Halloween approaches). Children also watch those around them especially mom and dad. If they observe mom squealing at the sight of a spider and dad being startled by a neighbor dressed as a zombie, the child will begin to absorb and mimic what they see. Parents are encouraged to address their own fears and reactions in order to prevent transference onto their children.”

Sarah Gibson-Neve, a mother of two in Mount-Albert, Ontario recounts a particular fear experienced by her daughter Pippa who she describes as someone who is “a complete mix of bold and fearful.” At age three, Pippa was spooked by a “larger than life”, costumed character from a favourite TV program. She normally loved this character, but during and after the encounter she did not want anything to do with him or the show for a while. 

Bartkiw advises to listen to your child. “Instead of lecturing about the irrationality of the fear listen to their concerns; their words. Listening will help to get to the root of the issue which is the main thought or belief the child is holding regarding the situation. Once you have a handle on the core issue you can address the fear more effectively. Create understanding. Explain the situation. Showing them over and over again helps. We learn through repetition and your child many need to hear the information from you many times before fully integrating it.”



Monica Schlegel, another mother of two who grew up in Scarborough, Ontario and currently lives in Steinen, Germany, shares one of her experiences.  Monica’s son Axel (now aged six) started displaying fears at a young age. An imaginative little boy who liked making up fantastical characters and who rarely had nightmares was terrified by experiences at a Halloween-themed amusement park. His specific fears revolved around a group of people on stilts and also Halloween-themed decorations that featured fake knives. These fears only intensified as he got older. Certain movies with scary elements spooked Axel, but nothing ever really resulted in serious, on-going issues. Monica comments, “Usually a good cuddle and his favourite teddy bear were and are enough to help him settle down when he gets frightened.”



Bartkiw reassures parents that most children outgrow their fears. “As they get older and their comprehension increases and they learn, more fears dissipate. As adults we no longer fear falling down the toilet and we understand that regular people are behind creepy costumes.”



But children who are in their early years have not yet grasped many of these concepts. So as parents what do we do? How do we find a comfortable balance between respecting our child’s fears while also encouraging them to expand themselves, face their fears and grow?

“First and foremost”, advises Bartkiw, “(is to) respect the fears of your child. Refrain from laughing at their fear, punishing them for being afraid or intensifying the child's fear by agreeing with it.” She counsels that parents should seek help when the fear begins to take a toil and spiral out of control. “Children hear and listen differently when information comes from other authority figures. It's important to address the fear and avoid the possibility of it becoming a phobia or something more paralyzing in the future.”

As for me…well…I just noticed a small little creature with more than a few legs scurry across the wood floor and I’m trying my best not to scream.  So I think I have to run!

Now where’s my teddy bear?

Visit Lora Rossi at her blog The Hugging Home at http://www.thehugginghome.com for more tidbits on raising kids, the ups and downs of motherhood, living authentically in the moment and much more!

Esther Bartkiw is a Core Belief Engineering Psychotherapist, Speaker and Author. She works with people to dissolve their fears, break through barriers, embrace change and reach for their goals and dreams. Esther has a international clientele with a private practice in Burlington, Ontario. visit Ester at her website http://www.changefromwithin.ca
Esther Bartkiw


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Contributing Writers in Fall, 2001 Issue:

A regular contributor to What’s UP, LORA ROSSI of Toronto is an Association Executive by trade but is passionately pursuing a career in freelance writing / blogging. Besides writing, she loves all things creative including acting and painting and is also a Certified Home Stager.  A busy wife and mom of three boys Julian, Noah and Drew, Lora muses about life in her popular blog The Hugging Home at www.thehugginghome.com.


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