Fears, Five Year Olds, and the Doctor

Question

My daughter, age 5 1/2 recently started acting irrational. She refuses to get in the car and will unbuckle herself and jump out. This behavior started a week ago when she refused to sleep in her own bed and would wake up in the middle of the night and throw a tantrum when told she can’t sleep in our bed. She screams that she’s scared of her room and the car. We have never been in an accident, so her fears are irrational. She has lost privileges and has been confined to her room for several days, but this behavior continues. She hasn’t played with friends and was not allowed to go to a birthday party she was really excited about. She is well behaved at school and her teacher has spoken privately with her, and she just says she’s scared of the dark. She is usually independent, but she has been really clingy, especially with her dad. He was out of town a week before the troubles started but is back and spends a lot of time with her.

Answer

Hello, and thank you for writing. You don't ask a specific question, but I'm guessing that you'd like to know what we recommend you do about your daughter's fears.

It's quite telling that she's doing fine at school. I think you can rule out any diagnosable syndrome, based just on that fact. However, it's not okay for her to unbuckle herself, nor is it okay for her to jump out of the car, and you really must nip this dangerous behavior before there's a real accident.

Tell her that you've spoken with her doctor who told you that smart 5-year-old girls sometimes are afraid of ordinary things because they're not getting enough sleep. Therefore, if you witness any of the behaviors about which you wrote, she will have to go to bed directly after dinner and there will have to be 6 CONSECUTIVE days of no tantrums, screaming, and sleeping in her own bed. Make a simple chart with 6 boxes and put it where she can see it but not reach it. And then, follow through. Stop paying attention to the irrational fears, stop paying so much attention to her, and go about your day.

Once you make this her problem to solve, I can almost promise that she will. Please write if you need further guidance or clarification.

Warmly,
Wendy Faucett
Certified Leadership Parenting Coach
wendyfaucett@gmail.com

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