Four Year Old Having Scary Thoughts

Hi Naomi, My question is about how I can help my 4 year old daughter. She says she has scary thoughts “all the time”. She told her scariest one is about two robbers wearing all black with solid black faces and she can’t see their eyes. She says she can’t stop thinking about them. To my knowledge, she has not actually seen anything like this or heard of anything like this but she must have somewhere. I validated her feelings and we talked about some of the times she does not have scary thoughts. Do you have any other suggestions? Warmly, Catherine in Atlanta


Dear Catherine,

Your daughter either saw or heard about robbers and is trying to rid herself of the fear. One wise way children relieve themselves of fear is by confronting it. Join your daughter in her play-therapy and add information that may put things in perspective for her. She might have a fantasy about what they do or how likely they are to show up that isn’t true. Do not stir her toward talking about non-scary thoughts because then you are teaching her to run away from uncomfortable feelings. In reality, when feeling the fear completely, release occurs over time. 

Question your own fear of her fearful thoughts. What meaning do you add to it? Do you tell yourself that she will be scared forever or be emotionally disturbed? Instead of adding your anxiety to hers, you can bring peace to yourself. Then, play power games in which you two run away from the robbers (for you, the robbers are your scary thoughts about her; they rob you of your peace and connection with your child.) Or, she can be one of them (if she wants) and you run away. When she catches you, let her act her fantasy, and then, if it seems fitting, discover that the robber is actually a nice person, “Oh, what a beautiful robber, I love you.” (Don’t force it on her, she may prefer to be a bad robber for the time being.)

This can lead to talking about her fear: Find out what is the worst that she imagine can happen and play act that scene with drama that leads to laughter. Let her speak, act or draw the worst that can happen. Then suggest that she draw the robbers with and without their “masks.” Talk about where robbers are and where they are not, arriving at the realization that she is safe because non of them are coming anyway. 

You can also empower her in the face of what scares her. She can learn to call 911 and get help. Maybe she heard the piece of news about the seven-yea-old boy who called 911 and saved his family. Although, I think inviting them to play may be more helpful, at least in imagination but sometimes in real life too.

Humor is a great way to release fear. “Oh no the robbers are here again!” When your husband comes home you can say, “Guess who was here today? The black robbers!” And he can play into it, “Really? Wow. Are they joining us for dinner?” The more she plays, draws, acts and talks the more she lets it out. Stay peaceful and interested and at some point the image will lose its power over her.

Warmly,  Naomi Aldort,


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