Help me quell my daughter's fear.
May 22, 2006 11:27 AM   Subscribe

My six year old daughter has recently (past few months or so) had a recurring fear of being kidnapped. I have tried many different tactics to quell this fear of hers, but would love to hear some possible tactics to relax my nervous midget.
posted by Ateo Fiel to Human Relations (23 answers total)
I had this fear a lot when I was about her age. The thing that worked the best on me, I swear it, was my Mom saying "Sweetie, you need to be important or rich to be kidnapped, this family is neither." Raising the whole issue of why someone would want to kidnap me in a directed fashion made it clearer that my fears were just sort of arbitrary and not based on anything. We actually did have a pervert in my town at about this time who would expose himself to little girls (and talk ran rampant in the elementary school about what he might or might not have done) and so my parents also gave me lots of sound talk on how to avoid being hassled by perverts but maintained the position that out and out kidnaping did not happen to families like ours.
posted by jessamyn at 11:40 AM on May 22, 2006

Doesn't that run contrary to telling your kids not to talk to strangers though? I don't know if little kids have that much logic, but if I thought I couldn't be kidnapped then I wouldn't understand why I had to be cautious of strangers.
posted by agregoli at 11:49 AM on May 22, 2006

Best answer: The only thing that seems likely to help is to talk to her as much as she is willing. Ask her what situations make her feel scared that someone will kidnap her, and brainstorm with her to find ways to make those situations less worrisome for her. For instance, if bedtime is her scariest time, perhaps you could suggest an open doors policy to limit her feelings of isolation, a bell to keep at her bedside to use as a special alarm, or having your dog (if you have one) sleep in her room with her.

Let her explain everything that worries her, and encourage her to use her imagination to come up with solutions. Kidnapping fears often stem from a sense of a lack of control, so giving her a major role in solving the problem will help to solve the problem in itself.
posted by Dreama at 11:50 AM on May 22, 2006

but maintained the position that out and out kidnaping did not happen to families like ours

I think that's a really dangerous position to take. Kidnapping for ransom may be limited to families of means, but I think that we've all been made all to aware that there are some sick people out there who will take a child for much different reasons and they don't care if that kid is from a lower end apartment complex (ex. Samantha Runnion) or the toniest of neighborhoods (ex. Elizabeth Smart).
posted by Dreama at 11:54 AM on May 22, 2006

When I was teaching junior high, I had each kid bring in a milk carton that showed a kidnaped, still-missing child. With 125 students, I ended up with 30 separate kidnapping instances. 28 of the 30 had been kidnaped by their non-custodial parent.

I think Jessamyn is right -- that once you strike from the list of possibilities all the ways kidnaping isn't going to happen, you're left with only a few situations for your daughter to be afraid of. Those are the ones you can talk about in the way that Dreama suggests.

It's also possible that your daughter has a high level of anxiety in general or concerning some other matter, and kidnaping is sort of a scapegoat. So consider if there's something else there, behind the fear of getting snatched.
posted by wryly at 12:04 PM on May 22, 2006

Random Bad Idea: Kidnap her yourself and take her somewhere fun like Disneyland.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:06 PM on May 22, 2006

I'm quite serious about this suggestion: enroll her in a karate class (or tae-kwon-do). Kids feel helpless because they're small and weak. If she feels as if she's learning how to fight back, it will reduce her underlying feeling of insecurity and vulnerability.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:09 PM on May 22, 2006

It's probably worth mentioning that I lived in a pretty small town, so there weren't a lot of random people around at any given time. My paranoid fears were mostly about Bad Men coming in looking for me (little Jewish kid Holocaust anxiety probably), and floods. My parents did care enough about my anxiety to take me seriously and that helped me explore the ideas enough to reach my own conclusions about how far out they were.
posted by jessamyn at 12:24 PM on May 22, 2006

Best answer: Don't expose her to any of the primetime programs on MSNBC, CNN, or FOXNEWS. Seriously, that's all the cable news networks ever talk about.
posted by gigawhat? at 12:38 PM on May 22, 2006

What does she watch on TV? I watched "Unsolved Mysteries" every night when I was that age; it gave me terrible nightmares. Even the local news tend to be pretty sensationalistic; a small child might not understand that stuff like that doesn't happen to everyone.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:39 PM on May 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Look, kids freak -- it's how they work through primal, random fears. We've all had our childhood boogeyman, and I'm not sure over-intervention is key. That takes away some of the kid's own ability to develop rationalization processes, and also, modes of self-protection. I think repeated variation on 'Mommy and Daddy are looking out for you at all times, you're safe' (and then, obviously, making sure you're doing that) is enough with a six year old. There's time -- a couple of years, at least -- for self-defense classes and describing unlikely ways of being kidnapped the kid hasn't even thought up yet! Don't overthink this, please. It's quite typical; soothing words, repeated over and over, will work at this very young age.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:44 PM on May 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: She watches cartoons and such, but she is a sharp kid (be easier to raise an ugly, stupid kid) and it only takes a soundbite from Fox News 'Where the White Women At' coverage while flipping through channels to catch her attention.

Fantastic suggestions all the way around, btw - keep them coming.
posted by Ateo Fiel at 12:44 PM on May 22, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Obviously we aren't privy to your conversations with her about this, but don't assume that you know what she's afraid of. You need to find out what exactly she's afraid of before you can calm her fears.

Get some time with her when you won't be disturbed and ask her all about her fantasy. Have her explain it to you - like how/when does she think it would happen? What would the bad guys do? Would they trick her into a car, or force her into someone's house? Has she seen any movies about kidnapping? Who has talked with her about kidnapping? What does she think it would be like to be kidnapped? Chances are, you'll be surprised at what she's actually worried about - kids can connect some dots together and come up with some pretty wacky conclusions sometimes.

Depending on how verbal your kid is, this conversation might rely on words, drawings, play, or something else. If she gets anxious during this talk, back off - teach her about things she can do to help her calm herself (distraction works!).

One of my kids was very imaginative (a good thing), but could use that imagination to come up with all kinds of scary/horrible fantasies. We ended up calling that part "bad imagination." Once this all got established, we were able to have a lot of conversations include the phrase, "Oh, is that bad imagination again?"

Once you find out as much as you can about her fantasy and where it comes from, you can come up with solutions with her. For example, if she's worried about being grabbed and forced into a car, you can see how she'd feel about signing up for some kind of kid-martial art type thing. If she's worried about a nightmare figure coming, you can give her a nightlight, or a special sleep protector/nightmare catcher magical stuffed toy something. If she's worried about some weird neighbor person or a bully, you can help give her skills to avoid these people. If she's got some teacher type person who's scaring kids as a way of "protecting them," you can talk to that person and tell them to cool it.
posted by jasper411 at 12:45 PM on May 22, 2006

I too was scarred by "Unsolved Mysteries" and "America's Most Wanted" as a young one. What worked for me was when my mom got me some protection. Actually it was water balloon with a face drawn on in Sharpie, but it helped control my irrational fears. Give her a totem of some sort and tell her that it will protect her. I know its kind of deceitful, but no more some than some others.
posted by sswiller at 12:47 PM on May 22, 2006

Might I suggest approaching this from a completely different angle? Your nervous midget might be nervous for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with an actual fear of the Boogeyman. He might merely be a symptom of something else.

Persistent fears that don't seem to go away? Therapy?
posted by frogan at 12:47 PM on May 22, 2006

Best answer: I hate to suggest this because she's only six years old - and I heartily recommend first trying what everyone else said above about talking together, looking into martial arts classes, etc. As a last resort, maybe get her a temporary cell phone designed for kids like the Cingular Firefly? You can control who your daughter can call and vice versa, and dedicate certain buttons to reach you, or other adults she can trust.

Aside from the cost, one disadvantage is of course, she may end up calling you more than what's necessary. But it may help her to relax, knowing that if she wants to reach her dad all she has to do is push a button.

And of course, you always have the option of taking it away once she outgrows her fear.
posted by invisible ink at 1:19 PM on May 22, 2006

Best answer: Thinkpiece has it right.

My daughter was practically crippled at that age by a fear of being homeless. We were in Florida on vacation, and passed a homeless man who was holding a sign up asking for money. She had just learned to read, unfortunately, and my older daughter chimed in and told her all about homeless people.

It got so bad that we finally sought help from a child psychologist. It turned out that we were approaching it all wrong - we were trying to reason with her as to how she was going to make sure that she would not be homeless- get a good education, etc. - like adults, in other words.

What she really needed was firm, continuous repetition that she was safe and would never, ever be homeless. When I got this advice, I thought that it was "talking down" to her, instead of reasoning it through. But at that age, they don't want to see shades of grey, they want safety, pure and simple.

The psychologist also taught her to do something he called "balancing" - he made a poster of her - like a cartoon - of her holding a small stack of books on one hand that represented (in writing) her fears. On the other hand he had a really big stack of books that had a list of all of the things that made her feel happy and safe. They made that list together. She hung it in her room, and was asked to look at it and talk about it whenever she felt anxious.

He also made her a "worry box" - a simple cardboard box with a slit in it that they decorated together. Her job was to write down how she felt every time that she got worried. The thinking there was that putting it into words made the worry a lot less formidable, and putting it in the box gave her a feeling of "putting it away." They made a real ceremony of taking the pieces of paper out together and reading them whenever he saw her. You could designate a time every night to do it with her in lieu of a therapist.

I noticed a dramatic change in her within a few days, and within a a few months, she was back to "normal." The psychologist said that many kids have hyper-anxiety because of the grim news out there , and the 24-hour news stations. He absolutely cautioned us to keep the news OFF until she was feeling better. The most important thing is to make her feel safe.

I don't know where you're located - we're in New England. If you want the name of her therapist, please email me.
posted by Flakypastry at 1:35 PM on May 22, 2006 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Have you visited her classroom or talked to teacher since these episodes began?

Kids can make the most amazing leaps of logic sometimes. It's worth investigating. Without telling her teacher "my kid is afraid of being kidnapped" try to find out if there's anything happened in class that could have triggered the fear in your daughter's mind. Did a police officer come to the school and make a presentation about safety, was a story read in class, or are the kids playing a game with kidnappers, hostages, or any other thing of the sort. My friend's son is about the same age as your daughter and has had a couple episodes in the past couple years that they were able to link to events in his classroom and resolve once understanding the source of the trigger.
posted by dismitree at 2:06 PM on May 22, 2006

Response by poster: You guys are awesome on many many levels. I appreciate all the great suggestions and plan on trying 99% of them. I'm new to AskMe, so I'm not sure if it is bad form to mark so many 'best answers', but there were way too many great answers to only mark one.

Thanks again.
posted by Ateo Fiel at 2:52 PM on May 22, 2006

Ateo: I can't say that I'm "old school" here, but I do appreciate multiple 'best answers'. It gives insight into the person who asked the original question and helps me find the separations between different discussions.
posted by jpf at 4:50 PM on May 22, 2006

Kill. Your. Television.

Don't get another one until she's sixteen.

posted by flabdablet at 5:18 PM on May 22, 2006

I have OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). One of the ways its manifests itself is HARM obsessions. That is, an irrational obsession that you or your loved ones are in danger.

When I was little, I was afraid I would be kidnapped as well. The lovely thing about OCD is that reassuring your little girl that she won't be kidnapped only serves to reinforce the bad thoughts and obessions. Basically, it is like a drug - the more you reassure, the more she wants to be reassured.

Of course, I am not a doctor and obviously am not diagnosing your little girl but it might be something to keep in the back of your mind if the other suggestions don't work or if it is part of a larger pattern of other obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors.
posted by delosic at 5:53 PM on May 22, 2006

There have been lots of suggestions of not letting your daughter watch TV. That is probably best. If that is not feasible (though we hope thats not true!), why don't you use Tivo or rent videos so she won't see any commercials for the news or anything like that?

And stop watching TV yourself so she doesn't wander by and see the news. News channels are designed to be anxiety provoking, its how they get you keep watching.

Finally there does seem to be a link between ADD and TV, so only good things can come if you throw your TV away.
posted by zia at 10:49 PM on May 22, 2006

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