Since when is my child afraid of everything?

What to do when your once-fearless preschooler becomes super-tentative and scared of every little thing.

1Anna
Anna, in one of her “fearless” moments. Photo: Tara-Michelle Ziniuk

I remember being at a friend’s house when both of our daughters were two years old. While we caught up, the girls ran around. At one point, my friend’s daughter stopped when she came to a board book on the floor, and stepped over it. “She’s very cautious,” my friend told me. In the ensuing conversation she went on to tell me that her kid had yet to have any major scrapes, bruises or falls.

My own daughter, Anna, was not a particularly hyper, wild toddler. But she was active, curious and engaged. I remember saying that she was “fearless.” But it wasn’t so much that she didn’t have fear, as that she didn’t have a sense of cause and effect. Because of this, she was often testing her abilities and trying things that resulted in minor injuries. More specifically, I remember Anna having a handful of seemingly reasonable fears at the time: waves, large dogs and loud noises. She also didn’t love getting water in her face at the splash pad.

However, sometime between then and now, things have changed. Suddenly it seems like my daughter is constantly afraid of things. Is it age or development? Is it the influence of her peers or the staff at the daycare? Is it that she has a better understanding of the possible consequences of her actions? I’m not sure.

This week, I was doing some planting and showed Anna, who is now three-and-a-half, a worm. We’d played with worms when she was younger, but this time she lost her little mind. Another day, we were eating dinner on the back porch when a squirrel broke into the garbage, opened a discarded container of olives and started snacking on them. I thought it was pretty funny; Anna responded as though an army of rabid squirrels had just attacked her. When we’re out walking she flips out when she sees a dog way ahead of us on the sidewalk, or even on a porch or walkway we don’t even cross paths with (she likes dogs, but she needs to ease into being around them.)

Read more: Fear of dogs: How to support your child>

One evening we started to watch the live action Charlotte’s Web on Netflix and I told her it was a sad movie. All she actually watched was a girl giving a pig a bath and taking it to school with her, but her anxiety was so high that something sad was going to happen that we had to turn off the movie. We can barely read books that entertain any conflict, because Anna becomes hung up on it being “a mean book,” even though the conflicts are always resolved by the end.

Read more: Is your child afraid of kids’ movies?>

Although she’s bigger and stronger than ever before, and often goes to parks with younger kids and babies, she now refuses to climb as high as she used to, refuses to go down slides she wasn’t afraid of earlier, and often asks me to come onto the playground equipment with her. (I don’t, but I’ll sometimes walk alongside, or hold her hand.)

In the last little while I’ve been noticing kids her age and their parents having interactions about the kids being too close to the road, or too far ahead while on a walk. Of course I watch Anna anywhere we go, but I don’t often have worries about these sorts of things because I know Anna panics when she can’t find me for even a second, and is much too cautious (at the moment) to put herself into known danger. So there is a plus side to this newly developed scared-of-everything phase.

Has one of your kids gone from fearless to constantly scared? What do you think causes it? How do you respond?

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a preschooler. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice, and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.

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