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Fear of Household Sounds

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My three-year-old daughter has developed a sudden fear of household sounds. I have tried explaining to her what each of the sounds is but it doesn't seem to help. She is going through a very emotional time (her father just married a woman whom he has known two months, has two children older than my daughter, and uses a lot of "bad words" that my daughter had not heard until now). Could these fears be a manifestation of her fear of this woman? How can I find out where the fears are coming from and what do I do to help ease her fear? Such an easy question, don't you think?

A: Granted this sudden inexplicable fear of household sounds she has heard all her life is puzzling and disturbing. I don't know what constitutes her"very emotional time" but I have to assume that she might be scared of a lot of things now, given that her life has been shaken up in a major way. Daddy has a new "mommy" and two "new daughters" to play with. She has clearly met and I'm assuming spent time with this new woman who among other things, uses bad words.

I think you need to keep her life as secure and predictable as possible with as many regular pleasing rituals as possible. She needs to know love and feel loved by both her mommy and her daddy. As to the noises, I would continue to acknowledge her fears( I see you're scared right now of xxx) and subtly change the focus of her attention to something else that she finds pleasurable. From time to time I would ask her(not when she's hearing a scary noise) what is so scary to her about the noise that xxx makes. I would also take one of her favorite dollies and role-play with her,saying, "You be the dolly and I'll be you." In the course of acting out a story ask her (i.e. Her dolly) what noises make her scary, offering up some examples of what noises make you (i.e. your daughter) scary. Get the idea?

She, and perhaps you, are quite fragile emotionally right now. Manifestations of that discomforting state can take on seemingly unrelated expressions. I know you'll abide with your little girl and see her through this. Who is taking care of and supporting you? You need to be supported if you expect to be your supportive best for your daughter. Good luck.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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