Fear–such an obvious topic for a special needs mom to talk about, right? I mean, I should be filled with The Fear–will my child walk? Will he hold a job? What will happen to him when I die? But here’s a confession: I cope with all of these things using the Scarlett O’hara method–I just don’t think about it. Maybe not the best solution, but I’ve never actually solved a problem by worrying about it in advance and I spent a lot of Charlie’s infant days worrying abut things that never happened or if they did happen, it was as big a deal as I thought.

So basically it’s taken me a paragraph to tell you that it’s Charlie’s fears that I’m thinking about today.

Charlie’s a tough little kid. I doesn’t cry at blood draws. He handled a bunch of Botox shots in a way that I don’t think I could have. He’s very tough, but lately I’ve noticed that he’s gotten extremely fearful.

He used to love the water, but now he’s not capable of enjoying the pool at all, which makes me very sad. He will sit in the bathtub, but if I lie him down in the water, he is frozen with fear and claws at the sides of the tub.

The other day I sat him on the bottom step of our porch and he twisted awkwardly to grip the step behind him. He’s really good at sitting on a bench with feet flat, but when put in a new situation, he freaked out.

I’m glad he has awareness. We spent years dealing with medication fog, and it’s positive that he’s taking things in and processing them. I don’t want him to be scared of the world, though. Right now the twins are in a pulling up phase and about a million times a day I say, “It’s OK! People fall. Just get back up.” How can I teach Charlie that same thing?

Caution is good, but a four-year-old shouldn’t be fearful. I know he’s working with a body that doesn’t always do what he wants it to, but I want him to try. I want him to push. If he doesn’t, I can’t imagine he’ll go very far. I don’t know if this is some sort of stage, or if there are deeper things going on that need to be addressed.

So often I find myself sitting around wondering what the next step is–trying to find the path when it’s not clear. It’s one part intuition, two parts Google search, three parts the wisdom of others, and praying like hell I don’t screw it up too badly.

Boy not looking at the camera.

Too busy booging to look at Mommy's camera.

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  1. I probably sound crazy and I have been preached to by everyone, but I just don’t expect Jude to walk or hold a job. I just accept that this is the way his life is. I feel like if he does walk then it’s just an added bonus to what we have now. I get told I should pray harder or I should have more confidence in him, but I do have confidence in him. I guess that’s why I feel so calm about the future. It took a long time to get that way. I remember you telling me………the first year is the hardest….two years later I am finally breathing easier.

    • I’m with you on this one Jenn–job and walking are all bonuses at my house. Really, why worry about that stuff anyway? A totally normal kid is still a long way from employment or whatever else. I try to just live in the here and now and not worry too much about what I can’t control.

  2. Are these episodes of fear all when dealing with movement? Is it possible that there are sensory processing issues? M went through some time when he had major issues being laid back in the tub or in any situation where he was off-balance or had to walk without seeing where he was going. We got through it with lots of encouragement and a terrific OT team. He still has sensory processing issues, but the ones associated with movement are gone now. We used controlled exposure, brushing, and deep pressure to help M learn to feel his body in space.

    Good luck!

    • M:
      I’m not sure–I’m going to need to pay closer attention. I feel like it’s when things are different, but not necessarily a different movement. Ugh! I’m need to give this some more thought for sure.

  3. We’ve had some new fears too. Sam has started BURYING herself into me, like she’d climb inside me if she could (same kind of thing, like gripping, clawing at me) whenever we walk into a crowded room – which has never bothered her previously. So, we’ve gone to the movie theater (which she loves) and because it was crowded, the second we got there, she wanted to leave. Same thing with two of her friends’ birthday parties. I think she’s overwhelmed in those moments. I KNOW this isn’t uncommon, but it’s new to her, so I’ve been scratching my head over it. Then, a friend (of a typical child) told me that she read that 3.5 – 4 is an age where children “typically” start developing new fears. I just hadn’t thought about that, and I’m not sure if it applies in Charlie’s situation, but it might.

    That doesn’t help with how to handle it, I guess. My m/o is just to not push. I encourage her, but I’m not going to force it on her. So, for instance, I’m trying to get to those places early so that we are the first in the room and people come in to join us rather than us walking INTO a crowded room where she doesn’t know many people. I guess I’m meeting her halfway, not pushing too hard, but just a tad outside of her comfort zone.

    • That’s so interesting. Charlie always struggled with crowded situations and almost two years of school seems to have helped with that a ton. Truthfully, it never occurs to me that Charlie could be experiencing something “typical.” I guess I should dust off some of those parenting books that haven’t seen the light of day in ages.

  4. You know how it is said that the best way to improve behavior is to focus on rewarding the good behavior? That has been my approach with this type of thing and it takes a while, but definitely has been helpful. Peyton used to have the worst times with startling at loud noises or when seeing new people in public, so in quiet times we would talk about what we can do to calm down in those situations. (We’ve mostly focused on taking a deep breath, though at first just mentioning taking a breath would actually make her MORE upset.) Then I would try to catch her as early in the freak-out as possible and coach her through it–when she was able to calm down, I praised her and reiterated what we did. Now that she is starting to use self-calming techniques on her own, I still make a huge deal about when she self-calms. She used to have many more fears about falling, but it seems to have gotten better with experience and perhaps it’s partly due to improving strength as well.

    I know you already do a lot of different kinds of therapies with Charlie, but maybe bring up these issues with PT/OT and see if there is some vestibular input techniques that could help? I hope it gets better!

    Oh and I’m trying to remember what we did because Peyton totally had the bathtub fear, too. I think I would put her in pretty shallow water and put a hand under her low back/bum and one under her head, then swish her up and down so the water swirled around her, talking her through exactly what I was doing. I think distracting her fear with fun like that was pretty helpful. I remember also laying her back against the angled side of the tub so she got some feeling of laying down but was still with her head well out of the water.

    • Well, you’re right, of course. Positive input is a great way to address this. I’m so surprised by it I’ve basically been doing nothing except scratching my head, which is shockingly unproductive :)

      I’m trying to get Charlie registered for some extra OT for the summer–once I get that lined up I’ll definitely ask about some things we can do/try.

  5. Fears and anxieties come and go with each age stage. I guess with every level of awareness achieved a certain amount of fear becomes attached to it.
    My son was a big big ‘swimmer’ between the ages of 1 and 2 and then something happened and he developed this fear of water and he refuses to swim ( he is 11 now) He loves water just doesn’t swim.
    My daughter last year freaked out all the time when the girls started to pull up and then walk. She seemed to be petrified of cars coming into the yard and running into the girls. Very Very peculiar but just as suddenly as it flared up it died down.
    I think MarfMom has some great suggestions. I think you should keep telling him the same things that you tell the boys that everything will be okay. Because he can hear it and eventually like the boys he will be consoled by it.

    • You make a great point. Charlie was fearless when he was on really powerful medication. When we switched to something that made him less groggy, he suddenly had new fears. I guess we’ll just have to keep chugging along and hope that he can regain some confidence with hard work.

  6. Okay, I’m no child psychologist BUT…I just happened to go to this conference last week where they covered the emotional development of young children and guess what? Around the age of 5, their imagination takes freaking off. They’re painting pictures, making up stories, inventing games. But they also develop this ridiculous sense of fear: read a book about a bear? All the sudden they’re inexplicably afraid of bears. They’re old enough to overhear grownups talking or the evening news–in their mind they hold onto those bad things (ie child kidnapping, home invasion, etc) and live in fear that at any minute, it will happen to them. Mia started being so stinking afraid in kindergarten and I panicked since she had always been my fearless child. The water/pool thing? Scared to death to go in because there might be sharks. I had to literally hold her hand in the bathtub. Everything got scary–scared of the dark, scared of under her bed, scared of sharks, scared of strangers. I wonder if Charlie’s not going through a little bit of the same phase?

    • Toni, how much do I love that you went to a CONFERENCE about parenting or children? I feel like a complete mom-slacker.

      I said it before in these comments, but I’ll say it again–it never occurs to me that this is the kind of thing that might related to typical development. I always immediately leap to the special needs stuff. Gotta start working on that.

  7. PS I’m sorry if that sounded like I was brushing off the problem. I don’t know Charlie and I’m not at your house and he could very well could have a legitimate fear for some reason or another. I could be totally off-base but I was just thinking that with all the strides he’s made lately as far as communication goes, his fear could be a very normal reaction/phase in his growing up process. I so hope that’s all it is, maybe his fears will ease over time.

  8. Paulette says:

    Just cause we’re all about sensory over here… To me those two examples sound sensory. Not trying to say I know your kid just based on two examples… but fear of tilting back in the water sounds vestibular to me… Sitting on the step and needing to hold on could be gravitational insecurity (also vestibular). Sorry if I’m totally off-base here!

    • Y’all are really making my mind pretzel with the sensory suggestions–literally never crossed my mind. I’m definitely going to have to ask a professional if this sounds like sensory to them–I’m probably going to ask the OT who he worked with in Early Steps since she knows him better than almost anyone.

  9. Our 3 year old experiences these type of episodes and they come and go. Once fun activities like playing airplane with her dad will just inexplicably turn into terror. And lying flat can make her throw her arms out in pure body panic. For her, it’s a lot of vestibular. It will go away but we do a lot of listening therapy, swinging, OT activities to work her through it. We have been episode free for awhile until she had a recent sinus infection. The fluid in her inner ear canal caused about a week of instability in her body awareness and panic episodes. Hope this helps.

    • Y’all have now totally convinced me that I need to consult an OT about these issues. I never would have considered that.

  10. Katy,

    Are you keeping the sex of your baby to be a secret until delivery?

    I love your blog! Charlie, Louis and August are precious!

    • Gwen: I am not. Baby number four is yet another boy. I believe that God knows I couldn’t handle a girl. And thank you so much for the lovely compliments!

  11. For the bath thing – would a handheld shower head or even a cup help any? The girl I babysit hates getting water in her ears so we just use a cup to wash her hair.

    • That’s usually what we do–I actually thought lying down would be more comfortable for him, but obviously that was not the right way to go!

  12. I know this is going to sound crazy but please bear with me the best way for you to show Charlie how to fall and get back up is for him to watch other people do it maybe you should point out to him when his brothers fall and get back up you never know he might learn to be less fearful.