I’m Scared

As a kid, what were you afraid of?

Our neighbor is really into Halloween. Each year, their front yard becomes a mini haunted house. I have to admit I was a little concerned how my children would react to the realistic skeletons, blood fountain (yes) and fake guillotine when they were younger, but up until this year they seemed more curious than frightened by them. My oldest son said, “Mom, I know this hasn’t bothered me in the past, and this isn’t real, but it kinda scares me.” I knew what he meant. There seems to be a shift at some age where things that you didn’t really notice or comprehend become scary.

My earliest memory of being scared was of shadows cast in my bedroom as a child from the door not being closed all the way and light coming in from the hallway. I’m sure I’d read or heard stories of monsters living under children’s beds, and while I logically knew the possibility was very small, the slightest possibility unnerved me. When I voiced my fear to my parents, I was often consoled and told, “It’s not real, don’t worry about it.” Easier said than done, right? The mind has the capacity for great imagination.

As a parent, my kids are now experiencing fear in their own way. Whether it’s the neighbors Halloween decorations or the unexplained noise (our house is old, and known to creak), or being afraid of the dark, it’s all very real to them. I sat my kids down after one of the boys asked if vampires were real. “Do you think people would be walking around outside ever if vampires were real?” I saw that I got their attention so I continued. “Doo-dee-doo, look at me, I’m just strolling along, hoping no vampire is going to come and get me.” With that, my boys started to smile. Realizing what I was saying was true seemed to comfort them. I added, “Same for werewolves, mummies, and zombies. We wouldn’t have a lock on our door, we’d live in a metal vault that would require a million different codes to get in. We’d never see our neighbors cause they’d have the same thing. Man, how’d we get groceries (and who’d work at the grocery store all open and exposed for some vampire to walk on in), or get to work or school, or go out and do anything fun if all these things that were trying to kill or eat us were all around?” Now my boys were laughing. They got it…vampires, werewolves, mummies and zombies aren’t real.

But it was a good reminder. Fear is real, and needed for survival. It gets complicated when we talk about things worth really fearing in our world. But that’s a talk for another day. In the meantime, I’ll continue to look for ways to help my children understand those things they need not fear at all.

How do you help your child work through fear they are experiencing? How do you explain all the ‘scary stuff’ that comes out at Halloween?

Enjoy the extra hour of sleep following Halloween. I’ll be back in early November.

Bad Dreams

My oldest is nine. He is starting to want to branch out and watch TV programs on channels other than Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network. He understand that the ratings on a TV show are a good guide to help him understand if my husband and I will be okay with him watching it’s content. He asked me to sit with him while he watched a show about the history or legends of strange places. I wasn’t keen on him watching the show, as I felt it could be confusing and potentially give him nightmares, but knew that I couldn’t shield him from such show forever. I sat down with him and proceeded to watch the show.

Part of the episode included a gangster getting killed by other gangsters who were trying to free him. The show did a good job of showing minimal carnage, but you got the idea of what happened: there were Tommy guns, and spatters of blood with people lying on the ground. I told my son we needed to find something else to watch. Later that night after my son had gone to bed, he got up and told me he couldn’t sleep. I knew this would happen, I thought, ugh! I told him to sit down and talk to me about what was keeping him awake. “I can’t get the image out of my head. I keep thinking someone is going to come out of nowhere and shoot me,” he shared. My first attempt to make him feel better was based on facts: gangsters are something we mainly see on TV, not in real life. I proceeded to detail when gangsters were at their height and why gangsters were dangerous. He thought about this for a minute and said, “Thanks, but that doesn’t really help.” Okay, what else can I try? I thought about the technique I use when I get scary images in my head, I try to turn them into something less threatening or scary. I try to turn them into something silly or ridiculous. It’s hard to be afraid when the image makes you smile or laugh. I shared my idea with my son, “what if we could make what’s scary you into something funny?” He smiled at the thought. I said, “What if instead of bullets coming out of the gun, tickets, like you win at the Family Fun Center, came out of the gun; and it made a ding-ding-ding sound instead of a bang-bang-bang sound?” I had him now, he was grinning from ear to ear. “Or what if, instead of pulling a gun out of his coat, he pulled out a butterfly?” my son added with a laugh. “I love it! That’s really good,” I said. I could tell my son was feeling better and had a strategy that was helping him.

It turned out the TV show provided an opportunity to connect with my son and allowed me to give him a tool he could use; it felt good.

How have you helped your child work through a nightmare? What unexpected places provided an opportunity for you to teach, or connect with, your child?