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When my son was one-and-a-half, my sister gave us a Wall.e Robot toy; it talks when you push buttons and moves back and forth. He loved it.

But all of a sudden a year later he has become terrified of "robots". Even talking apps on a iPhone freaks him out. He has nightmares about robots. He would wake up screaming, saying, "robot coming".

I have taken all "robot" like things away, and it has been almost 2 months since I have taken them, he still talks about robots. I don't allow him to see any movies with robots in them. In fact, he has never even seen Wall.E so I don't know what to do. I have talked to him a lot about how robots aren't here and they aren't coming but he just cries.

He isn't afraid of the vacuum, blender or any other tool or household item. What do I do?

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I always feel really bad for toddlers with nightmares. Good luck to you both. –  drxzcl Jul 7 '11 at 15:07
    
Maybe this is a strange question, but don't toys like that come with a minimum age specification? –  Roy Dictus Jul 12 '11 at 7:25
    
I'm not a doctor or psychologist. Just a parent. Maybe pick up a wall.e book? Show him that Wall.e is a friendly robot. –  DA01 Dec 14 '11 at 20:45
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4 Answers 4

It sounds as if he is not afraid of actual machines, only of imagined ones, right? He's not afraid of the iPhone itself, only of the voices it emits.

You say he still talks about robots. What does he say? What's the focus of his stories? Is there a particular fear that keeps coming back?

I'm thinking that he feels threatened, so it might help to show him that machines are not in fact threatening and that they only do what they're told to. (Don't tell him about the Terminator movies just yet...) Regarding fear of robots, I liked this other answer and also the two comments from HedgeMage about a radio-controlled toddler toy. Even though he is perhaps too young for construction kits, it might help to show him what machines are made of. Take something apart and let him see for himself that there's no part labeled "evil" anywhere. (Again, don't tell him that evil people also don't have any visible label like that. I hope he's too young to ask such a clever question!)

I think it's natural to remove objects that disturb him, so it makes sense that you took his robot toys away. But now he has no physical objects to direct his fears against -- he only has whatever is lingering in his imagination. Imagined stuff may be more difficult for you to address than physical ones, so perhaps it would make sense to re-introduce some of the most passive items (pictures or books, not battery-operated or moving toys). It would give both of you something physical to work with, and it might make it easier for him to tell you more specifically what he's afraid of.

Update regarding books and stories:
The problem with almost all stories involving robots is that even if they end well and are intended for children, they almost always have some real scary robots or other evil characters that make the story less suitable for young children. Even very likable movie robots like those in Robots or Wall-E have some rather brutal opponents. These are of course not aimed at toddler kids.
Keep this in mind and ask the library for stories that have no evil opponents (are aimed at toddlers).

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That is wonderful advice, thank you so much i will head to the library tomorrow to find a friendly book that may help. He usually says things like "robot coming" or "oh no a robot" at night i make up stories about whatever he wants usually a bird but lately he says " robot.... dont like it" he gets really concerned and cries, i have tried telling a story about a really nice robot that brings candy and toys, he still said dont like it, so the story ended with the robot going far far away. i'll try the book then taking the toy apart. thanks again. –  Shanell Jul 7 '11 at 7:10
    
@Shanell I added an update about stories, too. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jul 7 '11 at 7:32
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Agreed on not removing all traces of robots, and for an additional reason. If you protect him from robots by removing them, you might also be validating his fears; The fears were important enough for a parent to take action against them. It isn't an actual threat, so perhaps the child can help customize his own room and toy selection. –  Peter DeWeese Dec 14 '11 at 23:26
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It appears that your son is about 2.5 years old. Keep in mind that toddlers have less ability to know the difference between dreams and reality. Also, nightmares tend to occur with stress in waking life.

With these in mind coach your son about the difference between dreams and reality. Maybe through in the concept of imagination. This may take months to set in. And try to identify any stress in his life and try to minimize it. Remember toddler stress can be very different than your own, and much of it is unavoidable.

Stress questions from FamilyEducation.com

Has he experienced any major change(s) recently?
Did he recently start daycare—or switch to a new daycare setting?
Did you or your partner just start going back to work?
Did you or your partner have to spend a night or two away from home?
Did you just have another baby? Or have you helped your toddler understand that a new baby is on the way?
Have you and your child clashed at all over his struggle to reconcile dependence and independence in eating, walking, and so on?

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Just as an update, he hasnt experienced any changes lately, it seems his imagination is just taking charge. He is still waking up crying about robots, i have tried talking to him about it and most times even asking what he is afraid of or what happened in his dream he just sobs. i have tried books but they dont seem to help. i am still open to suggestions. i hope this phase ends soon, i sure miss those nights when he wasnt climbing into our bed upset. thanks for the comments! –  Shanell Jul 18 '11 at 5:17
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I find, when my kids wake up with nightmares it is helpful for them if they tell me the nightmare, describing what happens and then, together, we think of an ending. For example, my four year old is afraid of 'bad guys' (whatever that means) and so she tells me that the bad guys come into her room and want to take her, so I ask her who she wants to rescue her (she usually says mommy, but sometimes it is a superhero) and we talk about what I or the superhero would do in the dream (usually it has to do with punching the bad guy in the nose, then having me pick her up and run away). This works as she then has a good, safe ending to the nightmare and she is able to go back to sleep.

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Are there things you could do to gradually reduce your son's fears?

My son was afraid of the hoover when he was 2. I think it was the noise that bothered him, and the way that things disappeared into it. The thing that helped him most was learning that he could control the hoover himself. As a result, I've got some great photos of him doing the hoovering!

Here are some things you could try:

  1. Make up stories for your son about a friendly silver man who is a hero who loves to save little boys from bad things. Let your son help you make up the stories.
  2. Read books about nice friendly robots.
  3. Phone up your son and let him talk to you on your iPhone.
  4. Buy a nice cute cuddly robot for him, one that he can take to bed.
  5. Gradually reintroduce the things that you've taken away. Let his favourite cuddly toys play with them. Show him that you're not afraid of them.
  6. Make robots out of old cerial boxes.
  7. Let him rescue you from paper robots by tearing them up.

The other thing to bear in mind is your response to your son's fears.

My son is now 7 years old, but still wets the bed. When he does so, he needs a shower in the morning. The important thing is that on days when he doesn't we the bed, he can still have a shower if he wants to. That way, if he wants a shower then he doesn't have to wet the bed to get one.

So (for example) if you only let you're son into your bed when he wakes up worried about robots, then that's just one more reason for him not to let go of his fear. On the other hand, if he can come into your bed (at certain times) anyway, then he's free to let go og the fear without loosing any of its benefits.

Generally, then, continue to comfort and reassure your son when he's frightened, but make sure you offer the same comfort and reassurance at other times, too.

Finally, remember that these fears won't last forever. They're probably very frustrating for him / you / your family at the moment, but in time they are sure to pass.

All the best!

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This is an excellent answer - very very gently confront the fears, taking it step by step, and asking the child how they feel and why they feel that, and providing different evidence. This is a thing to do for children, and will build "resilience" and confidence. –  DanBeale Nov 2 '13 at 13:35
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