When I was a little girl, I had a poster hanging on the wall next to my bed. The poster was of Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck sharing a sundae in a 1950s dinner. I was CONVINCED that if I fell asleep facing the poster I would have nightmares, usually involving vampires.
I was afraid of vampires and spiders and ghosts. My father once let me watch Unsolved Mysteries, so I was terrified of being kidnapped. I also remember watching the television movie I Know My First Name Is Steven, based on the real life abduction of Steven Staynor, and being thoroughly traumatized.
I assume that these were normal childhood fears, and I don’t believe I suffer from any long-term consequences. My parents told me there was nothing to be afraid of and in a way they were right. The thing that ended up filling my childhood with scary images and long-term trauma was something no one saw coming.
Of course, now as a parent, I see the scary things that haunt children from a completely different perspective. Neither of my children are particularly fearful. I’ve only seem Amos shake with fear once and that was only over a particularly pesky fly.
However, I wonder if this has made me too complacent in a way. Recently, Griffin has basically had to tell me something was too scary for him.
The first time it was the real world nightmare of the Syrian civil war. I was listening to NPR and a report of the chemical weapons being used on the Syrian people. When Griffin asked me what they were talking about, I explained a bad man far away was using chemicals to hurt people.
“I don’t want to listen to this. I shouldn’t listen to things about people dying.”
I was stung. He was right. I’ve always tried to be honest with him and take a hands off approach in my parenting. However, sometimes I forget I do need to protect him from the scary things in life. The second time we were watching Epic and he informed me that this wasn’t a good kids movie and it was scaring him.
Both times I was left feeling like a bit of a failure. I feel strongly that my job is not to always protect my children but to teach them to protect themselves. I stay calm and encourage them to step into their fears – not away from. Some of this is my own personal fear… of being afraid. Being fearful is the only thing I can’t stomach. If I feel myself pulling back or clenching in fear, I step further into it. I try (although not always successfully) to make decisions out of confidence – not out of fear.
However, I’ve realized that’s more an attitude towards change or new experiences – not an attitude towards all things scary. I’m not running to the theater for every new Saw film, and you wouldn’t catch me at a haunted house. I’m not interested in fear for fear’s sake.
I’m just not sure how to tell the difference when it comes to my kids. How do I teach them to try new things and to recognize fear for the paralyzing and often detrimental emotion it often is without inadvertently giving them more the be afraid of? How do I find the line between fostering independence and fostering fears?
I definitely haven’t discovered the answer and I suspect the line will be different with every child.
As we get closer and closer to the fright fest that is Halloween, I’m wondering how do you deal with your kids’ fears?