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Toddler scared of books in which children "mess up"

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Dr. Laura,
My 18 month old daughter is having an odd reaction when I read her 2 specific books. In one of our potty books, the little girl pees in her pants at one point. Before we get to that part of the little girl peeing in her pants, my daughter shuts the book really quickly and says "No!"

This also happens with another book, where a little bear breaks his momma bear's favorite china bowl. Same thing, right before we get to that part, she closes the book and says No and won't let me open it again.

Is this normal behavior? Thanks!


Yes, completely normal behavior. Your daughter already knows -- at 18 months old! -- that these are mortifying experiences for the little ones in the books. When this experience happens to the little girl or the little bear, her mirror neurons fire. She feels the same embarrassment and mortification as the little ones in the book. She can't bear those uncomfortable feelings. This is the beginning of the development of empathy.

Respect her request to not read more at that time. But help her to cope with her own feelings by giving her words for what is happening inside her:

"You don't like the next part, do you? When the bowl breaks? (Or when she pees in her pants?) You don't want to read that part, do you?"

Depending on how upset she is:

1. She might just agree with you, or show no reaction while she waits to see what you will say, in which case you can take it a step further and say "The bear feels so bad when the bowl breaks." (or "The girl feels so bad when she pees in her pants.") Then say, "But it's ok. Accidents happen. The Momma Bear loves the Baby, no matter what." And give her a big hug. That lets her know that even upsetting feelings are bearable, and that this experience may be hard for the little one in question, but with parental support everything will be ok

2. She might get mad at you and not want you to talk about it. In that case, just say, "You don't even want us to talk about it. The Bear feels so bad! Ok, let's read a different book instead. You will read that book when you're ready." Again, give her a hug. That lets her know that you respect her feelings but even though it's upsetting you can still talk about it, and someday she will be able to also.

Make sense? Enjoy your daughter!
Dr. Laura

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