What to Do When a Child is Scared of Going to Another Room in the House Alone

Upset problem child sitting on staircase

At least every other month a parent says to me, “This might be odd but my child is scared of going to another room in the house by himself.” This is not odd. Between four to eight or nine years old, this is completely common. My older daughter spent a few years negotiating with me or her younger sister to have company in roaming the house. As common as it is, it can also be frustrating for all involved. Here are several ideas that may be helpful:

  • Start with empathy often – When your child is scared, it’s often helpful to start with empathy. Empathy would be saying,”I know you are worried about going up to your room. You don’t like being alone,” which lets the child know you are listening and you understand. It keeps the communication open. So many parents start with logic, “You were just alone in your room this morning,” which is something for the child to argue with. Other parents start with denial, “You shouldn’t be scared, we are all right here,” which just tells the child you don’t understand. Logic and denial tend to close down the communication.
  • Next move to problem solving – Once you’ve given empathy, it may be helpful to brainstorm solutions or ask the child to think of things he can do to help himself. You might also remind him of other solutions given below.
  • Encourage practice being alone in small doses – While you are playing together, you might make small trips to check on something in the kitchen. You can start with stepping out for very short periods and work your way up.
  • Then encourage your child to go alone in small doses – You might ask your child to get something from the hallway that is in plain view and gradually request things farther away. You might leave a favorite thing in another room so they are motivated to make the trip.
  • Offer to go part way – We have two landings on our way upstairs. For about a month I offered to go to the top landing and watch her go the rest of the way to her room. The next month, I offered to go to the lower landing, and for a few days may have negotiated to a step in between.
  • Agree to talk the whole time – (Thanks to a mom on facebook for this idea!) You might agree to have a conversation with your child the whole time they are going back and forth. This mom said she and her child would “beep” back and forth to each other or play “Marco, Polo.” This way the child knew their mom could at least hear them.
  • Promote the buddy system – In our house it was a younger sibling. The dog or a stuffed animal might be sufficient company.
  • Give a bravery cape or medal of courage – Small tokens can go a long way. A bravery cape can be taken from a super hero costume or can be made out of a towel. A medal can be bought at the party store or made from yarn and construction paper.
  • Appeal to being a big kid – Without putting pressure, you might highlight an older cousin or friend who easily goes to other rooms. You might remind him of other things he is able to do as a big kid.
  • Leave music playing in other rooms – Your child may not feel so lonely if there is familiar music playing.
  • Draw maps of the house and make a plan – You might make errands to other rooms more of a game by making a simple map (a few squares with doors marked by lines) of the house. You or your child can then draw an X to mark the spot and lines about how to get there and back.
  • Descriptive praise when he does go alone – Remember this is a small accomplishment. Good to note “You were brave! You went by yourself to get that.” when it goes well.

 

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