Parental Phobias: How to Keep Your Fears Out of Your Kids' Fun
Fear of Snakes?
Do you have a phobia?
Almost everyone has fears of some sort. Common fears include arachnophobia, heights, snakes, and the unknown. What about your children, do they have fears? Are they the same as yours? Whether we mean to or not, as parents we model behaviors for our children, yes both the good and the bad. This includes our fears. So how do your fears influence your children and the fun that they have? Would you allow your child to take a ride in a hot air balloon? Stand at the edge of a cliff and look out? Hold a python?
Rational Fears vs. Irrational Fears
Rational fears are important to survival. Rational fears would be things like, concern that your young child may wander into the street. A rational solution would be to stay with that child and watch him and teach him the dangers of going into the street.
But what about those fears that prevent you from living a fulfilled life? Irrational fears do just that. They are an unreasonable reaction to a situation or event. The fear of being in a burning house is reasonable. The fear of being in a house because it might catch on fire is unreasonable.
Where do fears come from?
There are many theories about how phobias develop. Some people believe that if you had a particular experience in a previous life that in your next life you will continue that fear. For example, if in a previous life you died by suffocation, the theory is that you will be afraid of small, closed in places.
The only innate fears that scientists have found in babies are fear of falling and a fear of loud noises. This is demonstrated by the reaction that babies have when placed in a situation where there are loud noises or if a game of toss the baby is played. So what does this mean for all other fears? It means that they are learned. If fears are learned, then where do people learn them from? In many cases children learn them from their first teachers, their parents. Although parents mean well, when they screech if they see a spider, eventually children will associate the spider with something bad and scary which will cause them to react in the same way.
Rational fears are important to survival. But what about those fears that prevent you from living a fulfilled life? Irrational fears do just that. They are an unreasonable reaction to a situation or event. The fear of being in a burning house is reasonable. The fear of being in a house because it might catch on fire is unreasonable.
Fear of Heights?
My Fear of Heights
I have many things that I do not like. I resist calling them fears because I do not like to think that they have power over me but when it's all said and done, I guess I must admit that they really are fears. A fear of heights is the first. I remember when my niece was about five we climbed to the top of a sight seeing point called Castle Rock. My nephew was just a baby and so I volunteered to climb it with my niece while my sister stayed back with him. A staggering 196 feet above the ground, it gives a beautiful view of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Once we reached the look out point, I could see that it was clearly safe. There was a tall chain linked fence surrounding the view and there was no possibility of a fall. That didn't seem to settle the knots in my stomach, racing heart, and the tightness in my throat. I spent about thirty seconds enjoying the gorgeous view and snapping a few pictures and the rest of the time keeping her from getting too close to the fence. After all, it might miraculously disappear at the very moment that she is standing there and then she would plummet to an unthinkable fate. Unreasonable? Clearly it is.
Conquering Your Fears
Conquering My Fear of Heights
The next time that I remember facing one of my fears was when I was on vacation in Mexico. My husband and I had gone on a sightseeing tour that included visiting and climbing Chichen Itza with a lunch at an Aztec restaurant after. For some reason the steep incline did not bother me and I easily climbed to the top of Chichen Itza. Maybe I had at last conquered this fear. But alas when we arrived at the restaurant, the racing heart and tight throat returned. We were told that following lunch we could swim in this sort of lagoon that boasted rejuvenation and healing properties. I had packed my suit and was all set to jump in, until I saw what it looked like. Don't get me wrong, it was gorgeous but it was how deep? And there are huge catfish swimming around in there? Here we go again. So as I battled my inner demons, I decided that I would get in that water even if it was just for seconds because I did not know if I would ever return to this place. I was not about to miss out on a potentially once in a life time opportunity. So in I went. I even smiled and pretended that it was great!
How do your fears impact your children?
As I am very aware of my own fears, I am constantly asking myself how will my reaction to this situation impact my children? I do not like spiders but spiders are not scary in my house. We talk about how they are creatures that play an important role in keeping other bugs away from us. I do not like snakes. Actually they give me the chills when I see them. However when I recently took my kids on a nature walk we came across two garter snakes. Instead of screaming and running away (which is what I really wanted to do), I squatted down and pointed out the snake to my kids and we talked about how it moves through the grass and leaves.
Recently we had a rain forest exhibit at my school. My students so graciously volunteered me to go up on stage for a demonstration. I knew that this was going to entail something that I would most likely not like, I was right. The presenter came from behind the stage and very calmly draped a boa around my shoulders. Standing on stage in front of 600 impressionable children it left me with just one choice, smile and pretend I liked the snake. If I had screamed or freaked out, it would have sent the message to all of those students that snakes are bad, and they are not. It was important to me that I put on a brave face for my students. See, I'm even touching the snake!
How do you handle your fears when you are faced with them?
Tips on Keeping Your Kids Fear Free
- Ask yourself if the fear is reasonable. Obviously you do not want to put your child in harms way. However often the fears are very unreasonable. The fence around Castle Rock was not going anywhere and my niece was in no danger at all. The Rain forest Show people would not bring out an animal that would injure anyone so a a three second picture with a snake was not going to kill my children.
- Do not push your children into something that is uncomfortable for them. My son had no problem jumping into line to hold that snake but my daughter was a bit reluctant. I told her that is was her choice and she didn't have to if she did not want to. I then asked her if she wanted to stand in line with us and make her choice when we reached the snake, she agreed. By the time we got there, she was not only willing but excited to participate.
- Put on a brave face. Even if you are shaking in your boots, try to allow your children to see that it is ok and that there is no reason to be scared. If you are afraid, then your kids will be as well.
- Conquer your own fears. If your kids are aware of fears that you have, try to show them that it does not have to control you. You can take baby steps to put those fears to rest. Climb to the top of a building if you are afraid of heights. Visit the reptile house at the zoo if snakes get to you. Anything, but set the example for your kids. Never stop working on overcoming your fears!
Life if fun, enjoy it! Don't let your fears stop you.