Friday, November 08, 2013

Addressing fear in children

I'm a pragmatic father. There are things people should be scared of: chainsaws, power sockets and cars driving past at 60mph while you are walking. And then there are things that are just not scary: strangers, superstitious mumbo-jumbo, and bugs.

So I was a bit surprised when Dev showed signs of a fear of  the dark. He wanted me to read in the kitchen rather than the living room. My wife suspected that the living room had a large window, which was dark. The recent Daylight Savings Time change made early evenings darker than a week ago. Even at 6pm, it was dark outside. Thankfully, my son can identify whether some thing bothers him, and I asked him if the dark was bothering him or if he was scared of it. He said that he was scared of the dark, and said it while staring at the dark window, shrinking back from it. No time like the present: we decided to tackle the issue right then.

First, we had a talk about it. I held him and told him that there was nothing scary about the dark, and that lots of beautiful things are visible at night: the Moon, stars, street-lights. We looked outside and asserted that there really wasn't anything scary there, and that he was safe in my arms. We both looked to see if there was anything particularly strange as we looked out of the window. Neither of us found anything.

Then, I asked him if we should step outside for a peek. He was hesitant, but he agreed. So we put on jackets and shoes and stepped out. Initially, my son clutched my hand tight. He was walking close by, he was subdued and quiet. We listed all the beautiful things about the night as we passed by them. We walked by some shrubs which were beautifully lit by street lighting. We walked by some decorative lighting in people's homes. Then we reached a prominent road. At this point, my son and I continued walking alongside the road, on the pavement. We saw some traffic lights, which were brightly visible from a distance away, we looked at road signs. After two intersections, we walked back.

On the way back, my son asked me to stop holding his hand. He was secure enough and holding my hand is uncomfortable for long walks. Then, he started singing in a  happy and loud voice. He sang all the way back home.  The only reason he wanted to enter the house was to tell mommy about our peek outside.

Parenting is about giving the child the right tools to survive as an adult. Feeding myths and falsehoods about the world are a terrible disservice to a curious child: stories about evil creatures in the night to get the child to stay silent, or stories made to get the child to eat. These stories are far from harmless. Fears grip their mind and children embellish their own fears with stories and falsehoods. Not starting myths and falsehoods is a start, and it is even better to address myths and irrational fears and reveal them as false nonsense.

Children are more capable than we give them credit for.

(Image, courtesy Only HD wallpapers)