My 5-year old refuses to go to the bathroom or to get a toy alone and it’s driving us crazy. Every time he needs to do something, such as get his shoes or wash his hands he immediately starts saying he’s scares and cries. Some of this may be for dramatic effect, but he has always liked to be close to us, so I don’t think it’s entirely made up. As far as we know, he has never had a scary experience in our house or at school. And when we ask what he’s afraid of he just shrugs. We’ve tried several things, such as spraying for monsters, leaving lights on, and refusing to go with him. Nothing is helping.
First, it may help to know that it is perfectly normal for children to still have these fears at age 5, 6, 7 and even older. Every person’s temperament is different, and no amount of prodding on our part will change it. Children mostly want to be validated and accepted for who they are, and supported as they learn to navigate life’s challenges at their own pace. In order to avoid being frustrated we can remind ourselves they’re not doing this TO us. Rather, they’re trying to work it out themselves and they simply need our unconditional support while they work it out. And for awhile this will simply be providing him with empathy while she begins to build courage:
“I hear you’re scared. Going places along can feel uncomfortable.”
Then go with her without using shame and blame, as shame and blame actually serve to keep children (and everyone) from moving forward.
During a time when you’re both enjoying each other’s company and feeling connected you can invite her to problem solve with you:
“I’ve noticed that you don’t like to go to the bathroom alone.
Sometimes I can’t go with you because I’m cooking.
What do you think we can do to help you
feel comfortable going by yourself?”
Listen to what he says without trying to fix anything or solve anything for him. Simply listen, and try to use any ideas of his ideas. You can use curiosity questions
to take your collaboration together deeper.
Then, the next time the situation arises and he tries his ideas you will again empathize with him while also letting him know you believe he is capable
“You feel scared even though you want to do this.
I know you’ll do it when you’re ready.”
Then go with him again and allow him to lead himself as he navigates this challenge. This could take weeks or months, but you’re building his sense of belonging and significance, you’re building his sense of capability and courage, and you’re building a strong relationship of trust between the two of you. It’s TOTALLY worth your time.
Want to learn more ways to guide your children with gentleness and respect?