Dear Margo: Afraid of Little Girls

Margo Howard’s advice

Afraid of Little Girls

Dear Margo: Between the ages of 6 and 10, I was severely bullied, but I was given the impression by grownups that such behavior was perfectly normal for children and I shouldn’t be so sensitive. (I now realize they probably did not pay attention to what was going on.) I was threatened with knives, bashed bloody with a broomstick and on at least two occasions suffered injuries that took months to heal. I’ve been told that one of the girls involved ended up in the state hospital for the criminally insane.

Bringing things to the present, I now often feel intense anxiety when in the presence of girls that age. When my cousin’s young daughter wanted to play with me at a family gathering, I found myself feeling as though I was 7 years old again, trembling and barely able to hold back tears, even though she was not misbehaving. When I hear people saying nice things about children, I feel overwhelmed with anger, and while I do not have any specific thoughts of harming kids, I find myself wanting to go off on rants telling everyone the “truth” about the inherently evil and vicious nature of children.

After bringing this up about a month or so ago in an online support group (for Asperger’s, which I have), it was suggested that I may additionally have PTSD and should seek treatment. Apparently, the bullying I experienced was unusually severe even for people who were often bullied in school.

My question is: Would it be worthwhile to seek treatment? I am concerned that it would be difficult to find a therapist familiar with ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) adults because I have heard of cases where further emotional damage is done because our motivations and reactions are different from those of “regular” people. Also, since I don’t have regular contact with children, maybe it’s unnecessary to go through therapy and instead I’d simply continue to avoid them.

However, I want to start dating after having been single for a very long time, and the reality is that most men of an appropriate age for me will be divorced or widowed (I’m 37). And … my friends are becoming parents. What do you suggest? — Scared of Little Girls

Dear Scare: Your insight into the problem is very good in that you recognize the origin of the difficulty, which would make any therapy less involved than you may imagine. What you need is support in coping and help with taming your thoughts. With the advice of a professional, I am recommending cognitive behavioral therapy. The fact that you have some form of Asperger’s is not a factor here. Good luck. — Margo, optimistically

Already Feeling Guilty

Dear Margo: I’m allergic to velvet and similar fabrics that are soft and fuzzy to the touch, and having my skin in contact with them is extremely unpleasant for me, resulting in redness, itching and hives. The problem is that I’m pregnant, and that sort of material abounds in baby clothes and soft toys, which no doubt will be given to us. The other day I was discussing this with my mother, and she said, “Well, you’ll just have to wear gloves all the time, because it’s unfair to deprive your child of proper toys and clothes just because you’re a little finicky.” Is she right, even though these things literally make me sick? And if she’s not right, how do I politely let people know velvety items are not welcome? — Expectant Mom

Dear Ex: Let’s start with your mother. “Finicky” means difficult to please. “Allergic” signifies an abnormal reaction of the body. You can tell her for me that there are many clothes and toys that are not made of velvet, and I have never heard of a “velvet-deprived child.” As for getting the word out about you and velvet, you might drop it into casual conversations with your girlfriends, but if there are any shower invitations, I would advise against putting “Please, no velvet” in writing. Should a few things arrive that are soft, fuzzy or velvet, simply return them for credit … wearing gloves, of course. — Margo, curatively

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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72 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Kate Olsen says:

    LW1 – no response other than Margo’s – really weird letter and I have no response

    LW2 – So sorry but Margo is wrong – please let all of the people that you think will give baby gifts know of your allergy.  Your child has a 50% chance of having the same allergy.  Please protect her/him from adverse problems as soon as you can.  Most people will understand when you tell them why

    • avatar bobkat says:

      @Kate: “Weird letter”? How is this letter weird? I totally relate to this woman’s experience, also having been bullied severely at the same age, but not physically attacked and bloodied. Of course she was traumatized and has PTSD and should have gotten theray a long time ago. I wish her well.

    • avatar StaceyLynn says:

      Perhaps you found the letter weird because it is outside of your realm of experience and perhaps hard to relate to- but people who have exceptional labels, whether Autism or some other label, often have difficulty advocating for themselves.  This writer obviously needed the advocacy of a trusted adult long ago in her personal history and is suffering the fallout from not having one.  I am appreciative of Margo’s kind response because the writer deserves the same right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as anyone else.  The only other reason I can see for deeming it weird would be that the responses are perhaps schematically a bit different than those of someone not Autistic.  Social responses are affected with Autism and consequently written and verbal expressions will have different accents (more and less intensity than would be seen for a neurotypical person, given the same context).  The writer’s feelings and experiences will not parallel your own and your reaction to that is unfortunately very “typical”. 

    • avatar TinyB says:

      Children who have a single parent with allergies have a 50% chance of developing allergies in general, not a 50% chance of developing an allergy identical to the parent’s. This also doesn’t sound like a true allergy, in which there is an immune response to a specific antigen. Velvet is made from many different types of fabric (cotton, silk, etc), and the letter writer is stating that it is the texture that is irritating to her skin, not a specific type of fabric. This is a misuse of the term “allergy” and her infant is at no particular risk for a reaction to soft fabrics. 

      • avatar atomicsusieq says:

        wow. okay, “itching, redness and HIVES” is the definition of an allergy. the LW may not know exactly which component of velvet and velvet-type fabrics she is allergic to, but since pregnancy can cause allergic reactions (which hives DEFINITELY are!) to be exacerbated, she must not handle these types of fabrics especially while pregnant, due to the risk of a worse reaction than usual. hives are an indication of the possibility of a severe allergic response, including anaphylaxis which can result in death. i am a registered nurse. 

    • avatar A R says:

      If it makes you feel better, I thought BOTH letters were pretty out there. :)

  2. avatar Violet says:

    I completely disagree w/ Margo that knowing the origin of a psychological problem makes it easier to treat. There’s a myth perpetuated in the movies that if you remember some long-forgotten incident, you will suddenly be cured. It’s imply not true.

    Also, what was described in the letter does not ring true. It’s so extreme. Where did this kid go to elementary school? Where we’re her patents in all this? And how is Margo qualified to give an abused person w/ Asperger’s a suggestion for a particular therapy?

    • avatar january 28711 says:

      Maybe you didn’t notice – Margo said “with the advice of a professional.”  She didn’t give that recommendation on her own.

    • avatar Maggie Tenser says:

      It’s nice that you think that the bullying in the letter could not be true, but I don’t think that’s likely.  My mother has described being cornered in a bathroom by a bunch of girls who repeatedly punched her.  My best friend was kicked in the stomach by another girl in front of a teacher.  The teacher told the other girl to “not be mean and help her up.”  One of the dirty secrets about bullying is that teachers often secretly/unconsciously sympathize with the bullies and act accordingly – especially when the bullied child has something “odd” about them.

  3. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    Re Letter #1:  I too find this a strange letter on a number of levels but Margo is correct that therapy is warranted (although since I have absolutely no training in this matter I’m not going to say that Margo is wrong or right in her belief that knowing the source of the problem makes therapy easier or whether the type of therapy she suggested is correct).

    Re Letter #2:  Margo DID suggest that the LW return for credit or exchange any items which she was allergic to and if the advice is followed, the baby will not be in contact with them if she happens to be allergic as well…so don’t be hard on Margo….she isn’t saying that etiquette requires putting the baby in poison clothes…simply that the problem can be handled without making a huge fuss about it.   Announcing to people who may or may not have any intention of buying your baby a gift exactly what kind of gift to buy smacks of a certain amount of entitlement.    

    • avatar cl1028 says:

      Re: Letter 2
      Normally, I would completely agree that announcing to people what kind of gifts they ought to buy is totally unacceptable, but since the stated purpose of a shower is precisely to “shower” a bride or new mother with gifts, I think it would be acceptable for the host to include a short note at the bottom of the invitation along the lines of: “Due to an allergy, please avoid bringing velvet and plush fabrics.” I think since it is a (probably) medical issue, most guests will be quite understanding. 

      • avatar atomicsusieq says:

        as someone who suffers from many allergies, i agree. any doctor worth anything would advise the same thing. allergic reactions can be dangerous, but the only way people can know not to bring these gifts is to be told. i, for one, would feel AWFUL if i gave someone a gift that could endanger their health. i think many other people feel the same way.

    • avatar bean says:


      I am just curious about on which levels you found the letter weird. I almost immediately could pinpoint the fact that she had Asperger’s even before she stated it. My partner has a young son with Asperger’s so maybe I’m just familiar with some traits and behaviors. All I am saying is that, yes, while the letter itself seemed a bit “odd”, I’m just curious why you thought it was.

      On another note, in my own individual therapy, my therapist likes to move on from the origin of certain behaviors and just get to the changing of them.  So I disagree with Margo in a sense that it really is not important to necessarily know the root. In my opinion, you just need to know the problem, and know it needs to be fixed or worked on or addressed. You could sit all day and talk about “why” you think you have issues, but never solve anything until you actually talk about what you are going to “do” to work on them.  So even though you don’t have professional training, I think it was pretty insightful of you to mention that knowing or not knowing the source of the problem makes it easier for therapy. Could be my therapist, but for me it does not matter one bit. 

  4. avatar ch says:

    LW#2, Yes, let’s start with your mother. She sounds incredibly unsupportive and I would be very cautious about letting her buy clothes / toys for her grandchild unless you can approve of them beforehand. And be careful if you let her babysit and she decides to go ahead and use something that isn’t healthy for you.

    There is NOTHING to be gained by having a sick mother trying to care for a child from infancy through teen years. So stick to your guns.

    I agree, do NOT let it be known you have a problem with materials. You can ask for say, cotton knit clothes for the baby, if you feel you absolutely must say something.  Garments like that are usually highly recommended by pediatricians. Luckily there are good catalogs available these days that can supply those items (Hanna Andersson comes to mind among others.) You can also use the value of “we are trying to use as many organic – pick whatever descriptor works for you – as possible for our child’s health.” That applies not only to garments, but also toys. People may then percieve you are making a health-lifestyle statement and may shake their heads, but will probably comply if they are inclined.

    As for any items you can’t use, find someone you really trust to handle them for you and return those that are unsuitable. YOUR HEALTH MATTERS. To you and your child.

    I am firmly against letting others know  that you have a particular substance you need to avoid. Friends, co-workers and sadly most often family members, usually deliberately push those items on their “victims” for a variety of reasons (from passive-aggressive behavior to flat out denial and rationalizations in between.)

    I speak from personal experience for myself, my family, and countless other people (documented cases) who have been permanently harmed by “well-intended” relatives, friends and co-workers.

    Good luck.

    And do make sure that you pay close attention to your child. Could be she/he will have the same problem.

    • avatar cl1028 says:

      I tend to disagree with your advice to keep all allergies and ailments a secret. I had fairly severe allergies to numerous foods as a child (everything from lactose and red meat to citrus fruit and wheat), and everyone I knew was extremely accommodating – even many years after I outgrew my allergies, relatives and old acquaintances continued to inquire about which foods were ok to serve.
      My point is that, unless the LW has reason to believe all her friends and relatives are either passive-aggressive, delusional, or flat-out mean-spirited, I wouldn’t hide her allergy on the off-chance one or two loopy people will purposely give her what she specifically did not request. In any case, she can hopefully return the offending items, and I am almost positive most people would be rather accommodating.

  5. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Re: L#2: I loathe saying this, because it’s something I assiduously avoided myself, and that I really have come to detest, but you could conceivably register somewhere at gently, discreetly, let it be known. To be absolutely fair to all, you could do it at  place such as (argh, blargh) Babies-R-Us (I don’t really care for big box stores, but…) or Target. At least in my area (Houston) both have a wide and varied selection of regular and organic cotton baby clothing in a full range of sizes and prices. And cotton baby toys, which are wonderful and washable, and sheets, towels, blankets, etc.. This doesn’t mean that everyone will buy from these stores…but if even one thinking person checks the list(s) and notices your very distinct preferences…he or she may very well say to others, “‘Expectant’ wants all natural…”. It couldn’t hurt.
    As for your mom, feh. Maybe you should give the baby some sandpaper, a hedgehog, some nettle and a man’o’war (I can send some from Galveston beach) to fondle for all of those tactile needs. The Little Person will be fine without itchy velvet.

  6. avatar Briana Baran says:

    Re: :#1: This letter is not “weird”. Asperger’s children are often as misunderstood by their peers, and frequently as poorly treated, as Asperger’s adults are by theirs. Society is not kind or compassionate to those whom it does not understand, and who are different and do not conform it its elected norm. Not all parents notice, or care…even when bullying is brought to their attention. For some parents, a “different” child is worse than a burden, it’s a nuisance.
    And children can be cruel. William Golding displayed a remarkable degree of insight in The Lord of the Flies. I don’t have any difficulty believing the story of ‘Scared’s’ childhood. Not one bit.
    Nor do I find it “weird” that she (?) is afraid of children. It might be PTSD, or it might be OCD, or the two combined. OCD is often co-concurrent with autism spectrum disorders, and a fear of little girls that started as trauma from youth would not be out of the question as an obsession. Nor would be the compulsion to tell the “truth”. I am not diagnosing at all. Just making a suggestion. I have an autistic son, 21, and have listened to dozens of parents, professionals and those on the spectrum talk about this…and this I make this suggestion based on that, and on my own OCD.
    There are a lot of therapists who specialize in adults with autism spectrum disorder now. Please remember…if you really don’t like your therapist, you can leave and choose another. But also remember, therapy isn’t easy, and it can hurt, make you angry and leave you wrung out. That would be you, getting over your personal humps. Good therapists don’t tell you what is “wrong” with you, they teach you to view the past, to understand ways to cope with it so that it has no power to harm you, and to move forward and to live in the present and cope with the triggers and challenges that will arise. They guide, they don’t lead.
    Why tell a person seeking help that they’re weird? Oy gevalt…people.

    • avatar bobkat says:

      Thank you, Briana! Yes, we Aspies saty ‘weird’ all our lives, but the older I get the more I don’t care what others think of me.

      • avatar Briana Baran says:

        Love your avatar. Being weird (my son refers to me as “Odd”, is a way of life for me…and I don’t give a damn what others think.
        Here is a slightly altered quote from an amusing but insubstantial film (the original defined “insane”):
        What if I told you “weird” (sub) was working fifty hours a week in some office for fifty years at the end of which they tell you to piss off; ending up in some retirement village hoping to die before suffering the indignity of trying to make it to the toilet on time? Wouldn’t you consider that to be “weird” (sub)?”

        The point is, for a lot of people, that’s their normal expectation. For me, not so. Not everyone can be the same, or “normal”. I’m not even certain what that means. “Normal”. Have a delightfully unusual day.

        • avatar Lunita says:

          I recognize that one! Buscemi is a good actor.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            Outstanding. The highlight of that particular film…though John Malkovich and John Cusask were also highly entertaining. Nick Cage…well, I guess you need some eye candy…
            Fargo is a favorite of mine as well.

    • avatar Maggie Tenser says:

      Well said.  Children can be cruel.  Worse, adults who take care of children can be callous, particularly when a bullied child seems “odd” or “weird” to them.

    • avatar Nancy Egan says:

      Well spoken, Briana.  I also have an ASD son, age 19, and I agree with all of your points.  It sounds like the letter writer’s parents were guilty of that most common parental reaction – denial.  They just want the child to be the same as other kids, and they think that by ignoring differences it will happen.  This was even more common years ago, when the letter writer was young.  It is also an easy path for befuddled parents.  I have seen it so often and my heart breaks for the ASD children, who aren’t getting the support they need.  They also get the message that their own parent doesn’t accept or like the real them.  Tragic.  But here’s the good news:  geeky is cool now!

  7. avatar Lila says:

    For the expectant mom, toss the question back:  why the heck are “proper” baby toys required to be fuzzy?  Raggedy Ann dolls are an example of a soft cuddly doll that isn’t fuzzy.  Plastic, rubber, and wood abound in kids’ toys.  Cotton terry cloth is fluffy but hopefully non-reactive for you.  Tell your family, co-workers, and friends that you have a no-fuzzy rule.  It’s not for them to decide what you will have in your home.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      I don’t know how people get these perceptions that babies come with “rules” about what they must have, with the exception of these: love, attention, patience, the knowledge that they are people, and won’t stay babies forever, and that each is his or her own person, an individual, and not a mini-me meant to live the dreams and life unfulfilled of its parents.  
      There are some very sensible things that the medical community has learned and disseminated to the world about safety…and following those (no heavy padding, quilts etc., in cribs, or piles of stuffed animals, having babies back sleep…all to help prevent SIDS, are excellent examples) is smart. But so many things are completely subjective, based on preference, need and opinions. O, and trial and error. Best of luck.

  8. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    I can’t add to Margo’s good advice to both letters. As for #1, I do wish you success in therapy and future happiness.

  9. avatar David Bolton says:

    Oh no—more diseases and disorders that may or may not be grounded in reality depending on whether or not we have personal experience with them ourselves! I hope we don’t develop that most dreaded of maladies—Imaginary Non-Empathetic Toxic Shock Message Board Disease Disorder as a result. 
    Only a long-winded reply and some antibiotics can save us now. Unless IN-ETSMBDD is viral—which means we’re screwed. 
    LW2:  I agree with Margo for the most part. But personally I don’t see any problem with putting—”BTW, I’m allergic to velvet” on an invite. If you were allergic to wool, for example—I can guarantee you that if word got around to the people who gave you wool gifts, the response would be: “well why didn’t she put that on the invitation?”

  10. avatar normadesmond says:


  11. avatar mabel says:

    I’m not sure what people find “weird” about LW#1 – I don’t have a problem believing what happened to her, or that she has a fear of children as a result. I was badly bullied around middle school age and it was worse from the boys. I too am filled with a free-floating anxiety around kids – especially boys – that age, especially if they’re whooping, hollering, or laughing uproariously. I hear the sounds of children playing and instead of thinking “Oh, the wonderful sounds of children having fun” I think “Gee, I wonder what they’re torturing”. My fear isn’t at the same level as hers, but I’ll still go out of my way to avoid walking past a crowd of 13-year-old boys in a public place. Given how common bullying has become, I’m betting this problem is more widespread than most people realize.

    • avatar bobkat says:

      Yup! Same here!

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      ” I think “Gee, I wonder what they’re torturing”.”
      I raised one who bullied, and am still raising one who was bullied. I think the same thing. Children lack empathy, an understanding of consequences, and “reck”. These things must be taught. Too many parents don’t bother.
      Read William Carlos Williams. He understood all too well.