As a baby, S was not really scared of big sounds - vacuum cleaners, food processors, fireworks, and darkness. In fact he did not have stranger anxiety too. When ever anyone new came to our house, neither was he very excited nor was he afraid. He just continued to do what he was doing. When we took him to the fireworks in St. Paul, C was so scared that S would be terrified of the lights and sounds from the fireworks that he closed S's ears. Seeing this, S just gave C a stare and continued to enjoy the fireworks.
But once he became a year old, he would cry on hearing the whistle of a pressure cooker or run into the bedroom on seeing the vacuum cleaner. We worked hard to get rid of this fear - we kept the vacuum cleaner among his toys, gave him the pressure cooker as a toy, acted as if the vacuum cleaner was a dancing partner and more... As S got over these fears, new fears took their place. Slowly it was fear of water, slides, swings and play areas. That just meant more trips to the play area and the swing set in the park - that helped him ease his fears of sliding, swinging and play areas. As mentioned in detail in my post here, no trial was successful to get rid of S's fear of swimming (I must mention though that he overcame his fear after our move to AZ). By the time he was 2, S's fear of swimming developed further into a dislike towards getting wet while dressed. His dislike was so much that he did not like even a couple of water drops on his shirt while brushing his teeth or washing his mouth/hands after food. He enjoyed a tub bath with all his bath toys and the bubbles right from the start but he was averse to the fact that someone can get wet with clothes.By the time he turned 2, he had long standing fears for water and darkness.
On the other hand, A had no fears at all - loud noises, darkness, strangers, swimming (everyone around us called him an aqua-baby) etc. If he felt sleepy, I would put him in his crib, put on his bed light and he would fall fast asleep; he wasn't at all scared of the darkness. When we asked S to bring his clothes from his bedroom closet, he would decline because the light was not on; immediately A would accompany him into the dark bedroom. Now, as A grew up he was getting difficult to handle - he would not listen during food time, bed time, bath time. He always had his way - he loved the water and made a mess every day during bath time, he played around with his food every meal, bed time turned into play time for him and it started to become very difficult for us to manage him. So, then we started to tell him, "Akhi, if you do not sleep Wiwilliwinkie will take you away."
One fine day during winter of 2012 while we were at a restaurant, we tried the same thing to stop him from doing something naughty and he asked, "Show me, where is Wiwilliwinkie? Where is the Boochie uncle (the Telugu word for Wiwilliwinkie)? " Immediately C pointed to the hotel manager and said, "That is the Boochie uncle." To that A started shouting, "Hey Boochie uncle, you cannot take me away. I am not scared of you." The hotel manager on seeing A pointing to him thought that we were trying to tell him something and came over to our table. From that day on he started calling the hotel manager at every hotel Wiwilliwinkie... Now that turned out to be a lot for us to handle. So that trick was out the window, at least not in hotels. Actually everywhere; one day he offered to give away his nainamma (C's dad) to Wiwilliwinkie when she tried putting him to bed.:(
No trick to scare A worked with him, it always backfired. He just became more and more fearless and we just began having a more and more difficult time...He was not unmanageable, but he was just so active that it was taking a toll on us and that's why we tried to scare him with Boochie (Wiwilliwinkie). From being such a fearless toddler he suddenly turned into a timid toddler - he developed fear for ants, dogs, cats, birds, food processor, slides and vacuum cleaners.
Till date, C and I cannot understand how this drastic transformation for the bad came along during the summer of 2013. If he says a black dot in the bath tub, he does not get off the stool mistaking it for an ant. A bird on the sidewalk, a dog walking almost a mile ahead of us, sound of anybody else's vacuum cleaner other than ours, loading the food processor - everything make him run. In spite of these fears, if he is sleepy he will get into his bedroom and sleep (even if his bedroom is dark). Both of us try to make him overcome his fears but most of the time our efforts are futile.
On one hand, as parents we keep thinking, "Oh My God! why is he so scared? how to make him get rid of his fears? will he ever get rid of these fears? how did he develop these fears? are we doing something wrong?" We try to reduce his fears by telling him fairy tales in which there is a little boy called Akhil who had 20 ant friends, slept beside 4 dogs, vacuumed the entire house every day and was not at all scared; that the birds fly in to kiss him, the ants crawl up to wish him a very good morning; that the food processor is singing a rhythm for him to sing to; and that the vacuum cleaner is an excellent dance partner when mom is not around.
While on the other hand, we try to get our way with A by saying, "Akhi, eat otherwise I will call the bird.", "Come on Akhi sleep, else we will call the doggie uncle from next door." It looks like this is the only trick that is working right now to make him eat his lunch in 30 minutes, sleep without troubling his older brother who has to wake up early for school the next day, not go out onto the road opening the house main door on his own, not sit on the carpet without cleaning his bum after going poo-poo, not cry once he hears a "No" for an answer; I tried sticker charts (he will take the stickers without listening to me), ice cream rewards (he will climb his chair and bring the ice cream out of the freezer without listening to me) and 2-min / 3-min time-outs. Nothing except this fear is working right now.
Growing up people have their own fears - C has acrophobia and I am claustrophobic. Is it even necessary for me to use A's fears to get him to obey? I just did not like the concept itself and I began to wonder - I am the one putting the fear in him and I am the one trying to get him rid of it? Am I even justified in my expectations from a little 3-yr old? Am I logical in my requirements? If I am facing a catch-22 with him, I wondered how confused he must be with the contrasting messages I am sending to him as a parent (in different situations)...
This got me thinking as to how can I make A listen to me without scaring him? And I took a resolution last week - do anything but scare A with his fears to get him to obey. And I shared this to S too so that I have an impartial witness/judge (I share my resolutions with S because S will stop me right when I am going to break my promise - at least this way he does not give me the scope to regret for my actions). I told S, " No yelling, no shouting, no scaring - only talking and very firm talking in our family. But you boys have to listen to my firm talking, else Amma will not talk to you for one hour..."
And to be very honest, this has worked from Thursday last week (that was when I resolved so) - neither did S nor did A act up. But another very good trick of the trade was to get to eye contact level with my boys and then they know that mom means business.
Looking forward with fingers crossed for another such rewarding week...