How to Navigate Todder Fears of Blow-up Penguins and Stray Hairs

by ParentCo. January 25, 2017

a penguin waving hand

Being a hero in the eyes of my little ones is a perk of motherhood I expected. I assumed I’d be saving my kids from bees, the deep end of the swimming pool, and the mean kids at the park, but I never thought I’d be rescuing my sons from strands of hair and an inflatable penguin. I’m sure my boys will grow out of this phase, but right now, what horrifies them is hilarious to me.

My two-year-old is a little particular (that’s particular, not peculiar). He likes to clean, likes things in order, and he doesn’t like his hands dirty or sticky. (We gave him a glazed doughnut, and he asked for gloves. After a debate, we settled on a fork). I can only guess that his aversion to “yucky” things led to his fear of hair. He’s not afraid of the hair on our heads, just the loose pieces that you might find in the tub or on the floor.

I don’t blame him for being a little disgusted by a random hair, but this is a real toddler-phobia. When he sees a hair, he backs away or scrunches up in the corner of the bathtub, points at it, and shouts, “Hair! Hair! Hair!” until I remove it. My son reacts to a strand of hair the way most of us would react to a bat in the house.

One day I found him spitting on the kitchen floor, mumbling, and raking his fingers across his tongue. I asked him to let me see and I found a hair in his mouth. Now he thinks he has a hair in his mouth a few times a week. We’ve had to enforce a strict no spitting rule because he’ll suddenly start yelling, “Air! Air! Air!” with his tongue sticking out until I save him from the imaginary menace. I’ll ask him if I got it (there is never a hair, I just wipe a paper towel across his tongue), and he’ll smile and say, “Dat better.”

The blow-up penguin was a Christmas gift from my aunt for the boys. It’s weighted at the bottom so you can knock it down, and it bounces back up. It also talks when turned on. I got it out sometime in January, and put it in our living room. At first, our one-year-old ignored it. But one day he hit it, and it talked. He screamed bloody murder as he bolted head first for my chest, kicking and pushing me to get away from it. Given his hysterics, I hid it in a closet.

About a month later, I saw the penguin and was curious to see if my little guy would react the same way. This time, I made sure it wasn’t on so it wouldn’t make noise. I put it in his room on the floor. The next time we went in, he was fine until the second his eyes met the penguin’s. He started to cry as he backed up slowly, his stare never moving from the smiling bird, and then he made a break for it into my arms. I asked my two-year-old to put it in the closet and shut the door, while I consoled my terrified baby.

After letting some time pass, I thought it would be a good idea to show my son that the penguin was just a toy, not one of those evil, child-eating penguins you hear about on the playground. I asked my two-year-old to kiss and hug the penguin while I held my youngest in my arms across the room. We reassured him and told him how nice the toy was as I inched closer and closer. He clung to me for dear life and dug his fingernails into my arm, but he didn’t cry. Soon we were close enough to touch it.

Okay… progress, I thought. I was about to put the penguin away when my two-year-old turned it on. At that moment, a passerby would have called 9-1-1 had they heard the frightening screams coming from our home.

I whisked my smallest boy from the room, while calling to his brother from the hallway to barricade the demon bird in the closet. So, I’ve decided to wait this one out. I don’t want a passing toddler fear to turn into a full blown penguin phobia. I may be a Super Penguin Protectress, but Mommy’s super powers do not include a PhD in psychology.

When are you a hero for your kids? Have you had to save them from nonthreatening objects?



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