Parenting

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Easter Bunny costume had a disturbing impact on my son

Published 26/05/2014|02:30

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PROBLEM: I had great memories as a child of the Easter Bunny. So, this year I decided to have a friend dress up as the Easter Bunny for all my nieces and nephews, and my own two children.

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I had him knock at the window and leave goodies at the door and then run off down the road. The children were very excited. However, from that night on my four-year-old son will not leave my side. He won't go to bed or the toilet on his own. I now have to sleep with him and he even wants me facing him in the bed.

It's gone out of control. I'm falling over him as he is constantly stuck to me. I should explain that he is profoundly deaf and wears a cochlear implant. I have asked him what is frightening him, but he won't tell me. Every now and again he looks in the direction of the front door in terror. I have tried explaining the magic of it. This didn't work.

I went on to explain that it was only make-up and I showed him the outfit. I have since told him that we threw the outfit away (I have kept it).

I don't know what else to do. I'm hoping you can help my son and me with this.

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David Replies: IT is always a shame when our attempts to do something that we believe will be nice for our children backfires. It is unfortunate that your son had such a frightened reaction, but if you put yourself into the shoes of a four-year-old you can easily make sense of how this happened.

Pay special attention to how your child interprets things.

Imagine that you are playing with all of your cousins when this bizarre creature appears at your window. It looks something like a human and something like a rabbit.

Immediately, all the adults are going "Ohh, look. It's the Easter Bunny". If you even manage to hear that properly, with the general background noise and your hearing difficulties, you may still think "this is like no Easter Bunny I've ever seen in the books".

If you didn't hear the adults' explanation then you may have no idea what is happening.

Meantime, the adrenaline levels of the whole group of children are surging. It looks like everyone is panicking.

That adrenaline is probably a mixture of anxiety and excitement. In your case, though, it is mostly anxiety. Next thing you know, the creature is at the door trying to get it. Your anxiety peaks.

Thankfully, when your mam goes to the door and throws it open she manages to frighten off the bunny monster and it runs away.

But of course you naturally hold onto a fear that it could come back and may want to break in through the door the next time. You decide it is best to just stick to your mam like glue, as she knows how to frighten off the monster.

Even though your mam keeps telling you that it was just a joke and that it wasn't a real monster, you don't believe her. But you do keep sticking to her and not letting her out of your sight.

But let's come back to being adults again.

You have a son who was scared by what he perceived as a monster, not a cuddly rabbit.

I think you should dump the bunny costume or give it to a relative or friend.

Otherwise you run the risk of being shown up as a liar at some point in the future and that will make it even harder for your son to rely on you and trust you down the line.

Even with his deafness, your son can obviously still hear with his implants.

So you need to talk to him about the incident.

Rather than asking him questions, try to prompt him to give a narrative of what he saw, what he thought and what he felt about that morning when the 'bunny monster' turned up at the window.

Pay special attention to how he interpreted the goings on. Make sure you prompt him with lots of empathetic statements about how he seemed scared, or upset, or how terrifying the whole experience might have seemed.

Guess, out loud, why you think he was scared rather than asking him.

Don't rush in to rationalise things. Focus on his experience and feelings.

You can offer him reassurance and rationalisation only after you have shown him that you can understand just how frightening it was for him.

The more he talks about what it was like for him, the quicker he can process and reduce his anxiety, and so will need to be less clingy.

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