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I'm sure the headline made you curious? :-) But I'm serious, and I am not referring to toys but actual household machines. We have a Roomba floor vacuum cleaner and a lawn mower.

My 20-month son is afraid of these machines, even when they're parked and turned off. He will back away from them and start to whine. I've told him, and shown him, that the machines are harmless and not evil, but that didn't convince him.

He is not afraid of kitchen machines that are much more noisy. He's also (mostly) not afraid of the regular vacuum cleaner and the regular electric lawn mower that we also use, nor of other machines or cars, mopeds, bikes, etc. even if they are noisy. But he is afraid of the power drill. And terrified of mascots operated by a person inside (as in Disneyland).

Do you have experience with similar situations? What can be the cause? What helped?

Note: Just to be clear, I'm well aware that any lawnmower can be very dangerous, and we make absolutely sure that there is no way for the lawnmower to get near our son. But he can still see it.

I'm including some marketing photos so you can see what size the robots are:

stock photo stock photo

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How about a car- is he scared of riding in cars? If not then you try to leverage that this is just like the car. – user2617804 Feb 12 at 2:39
up vote 13 down vote accepted

My guess is that these things frighten him (minus the drill - but both my children hated the drill until they topped 4-5 years old because of the noise) because they act on their own; but unlike anything else that acts on its own (you, pets, other children etc), there's no visual cues as to what the machine is going to do next. There's no facial expression or body language to read.

Obviously this fear won't persist forever; once he learns to understand the difference between living things with motives etc; and robots that 'just do'; then he'll be fine.

It might be just as well to let him get round this problem himself rather than trying to force the issue.

I've often found with my children and their irrational fears that we had to completely ease up to give them the room to explore the fear themselves; if they felt that someone was trying to force them, however well-meaning or pleasant, then they dug in deeper.

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I'm with Andras on the probable source of the fear, but if you don't want to just wait for it to go away, you might try getting your child a remote-control toy. Putting him in control of how something like that moves and acts may make them seem less foreign and intimidating. – HedgeMage Jun 6 '11 at 13:39
@HedgeMage an R/C toy is a fun idea! I know what I'd buy... but do you have a suggestion that would be suitable for a 20-month-old? – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 6 '11 at 13:52
@HedgeMage - good idea – Andras Zoltan Jun 6 '11 at 13:52
@torbengb Something durable, without too many different controls to manage. When my son was that age he had a couple remote control cars made specifically for toddlers (remind me in chat I'll ask his grandma where she got them). These things have been run down stairs, pounced by my parents' doberman, etc. and survived to be handed down to @squidly's kids. The remotes are very simple -- one has two buttons (forward and back, it turns in a random direction when backing) and one has four (forward, back, left turn, right turn). – HedgeMage Jun 6 '11 at 14:14

My son is afraid of vacuums and water. My daughter is afraid of balloons. I don't think you can ascribe much rationality to it, other than as an instinct that works in unexplainable ways. My other daughter is almost completely fearless, probably a symptom of her cerebral palsy, and trust me, as a parent a little irrational fear is preferable.

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irrational fear Yes I don't want him to want to tinker with the robots while they are operating... – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 6 '11 at 13:56
vacuums, water and balloons. It's not too hard to explain those fears. One is very noisy and intimidating, another explodes, and the third can kill you by drowning. – Robert Harvey Jun 7 '11 at 18:22
Good point, @Robert, but interestingly enough, I believe my daughter has yet to experience a balloon popping. – Karl Bielefeldt Jun 7 '11 at 19:27

They get over it. Familiarity breeds contempt. Eventually, you'll find the kid trying to figure out a way to ride around on them.

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Haha, true. Then I'll need to figure out how to get him off the robots. I'll post back then to ask about that :-) – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 6 '11 at 13:53

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