My 2-year-old son enjoys having stuffed animals around him as comfort objects, as well as playing with toy humans and animals. Ever since the first time he saw a talking puppet (around 18 months old, probably) he immediately avoids looking at it. This is for any kind of puppet - animal puppets, human puppets, etc.

He doesn't cry or act afraid in any way other than that he refuses to look at it, as if it kind of freaks him out. He does this for puppets in videos as well as at a live puppet show, and has even happened with hand puppets up close. What's at the root of this behavior? Is this common?

It's pretty common, and trying to identify a root cause is unlikely to give you anything useful. This is one of the less surprising things that scare kids, to be honest. Puppets are freaky - the dimensions are odd, they don't move naturally etc.

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    Puppets and clowns are freaky. – Rui F Ribeiro Aug 2 at 16:20
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    It's called uncanny valley. When something appears lifelike but not at the same time. Its why puppets, dolls, and clowns are such campy horror movie staples. Its a natural and instinctive fear of something that is unknown and unpredictable. Clown's makeup masks facial expressions, dolls and puppets appear lifelike but also are unable to accurately express emotion, this is an instinctive trigger for disgust, distrust, and fear in a lot of people. – TCAT117 Aug 5 at 10:44

We have an innate fear of things that look 'incorrectly' human, aka the uncanny valley. Corpses, dolls, robots. There are many theories for why this is.

chart

Your son is may be too young to make a clear distinction between 'this is a puppet' and 'this is a person and something is terribly wrong.' He averts his gaze because his brain has a hard time 'processing' the puppet.

I think it's a reasonable fear, but if you want your son to be more comfortable with puppets, I'd start by showing him a small, very non-humanlike puppet and letting him play with it. Then try a sock on your hand. If he's comfortable with that, you can move on to more lifelike puppets like a talking frog or something.

For the grown up version of this reaction, I challenge you to get through these creepy robots without being a little unsettled.

creepy robot

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