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Parental Phobias: How to Keep Your Fears Out of Your Kids' Fun

Updated on March 17, 2012

Fear of Snakes?

Yes, it is a real python that they are holding.  No fear here!
Yes, it is a real python that they are holding. No fear here! | Source

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?

View from the top of Castle Rock.
View from the top of Castle Rock. | Source

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

Smiling and waving, isn't it fun?
Smiling and waving, isn't it fun?

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!

My stage debut with a boa!
My stage debut with a boa! | Source

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!

Fearless Kids!

"Petting" a crocodile.
"Petting" a crocodile. | Source


How do you handle your fears when you are faced with them?

See results

Tips on Keeping Your Kids Fear Free

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.


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    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks for sharing your story SmartAndFun. You are most definitely not a failure of a parent because of your fears. Perhaps if you haven't already had a conversation with your children about fears, your fear and how it can prevent you from doing certain things in life you can talk about it with them. Part of being able to be good role models for our children comes from being able to admit when we are struggling with something and teach them to learn from our struggles. Thanks for reading!

    • SmartAndFun profile image


      9 years ago from Texas

      Great hub, and I'm glad to hear you are conquering your fears. I have a fear of being trapped that definitely holds me back with my kids and their fun. I hid it from them for quite some time but one day had a bit of a freak-out in an elevator when I was "sure" we would never get out. Ugh. It's embarrassing, humiliating and makes me feel like a failure as a parent. But it's so hard to control. It's like something is wrong in my brain, like I have too much "flight" instinct or something.

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Michigan

      It's so hard sometimes Robin. We want to protect our children but at the same time know that it is important for them to take "safe" risks as well. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 

      9 years ago from San Francisco

      Excellent Hub! I am constantly telling myself to close my mouth when it comes to warnings with the kids. I feel like "be careful" comes out of my mouth way too often. The kicker is that they are fairly careful kids, it is almost by habit that I say it! As for the spiders, I actually am the one who picks them up no problem - they don't bother me a bit. It's when they are running down a hill that I get nervous! It's amazing how our reactions can influence their future behaviors; it's definitely something to think about and be more aware of. Cheers! ;)

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Michigan

      Sorry Shelly, not really sure how I never responded to your comment. I think that we all need to be a bit aware of not being "too" overprotective. Hope you get a chance to read this since it's been so long! :(

      Nikkiraeink, I tried to be very aware of this with my children at a very young age. It is hard sometimes but I see my children take on new experiences that I KNOW I never would have at their age and I know it's paying off. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • nikkiraeink profile image


      9 years ago from So. Cal.

      Great hub! My daughter is only 21 months but I've tried to be aware of the way I react to certain things. It's amazing how kids can give you courage.

    • shellyakins profile image


      9 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks for pointing out that our children are different from us. I know that seems like a "Well, duh!" comment, but I forget that sometimes. I know my experiences and fears. I want my kids to experience things and stay away from "harmful" situations. But I forget that I'm using my perceptions to influence them. Thanks for the advice on stepping back and letting our kids develop into their own person.

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Michigan

      I agree, but even Moms can be like that. I'm thinking of the pageant Moms who push their kids onto the stage as they are yelling that they don't want to do this. Great comments, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

    • miccimom profile image


      9 years ago from U.S.A

      I agree with the , don't push the children to do something that is uncomfortable for them. I don't mean to knock down the Dad's but I have seen a few too many times, the Dad's trying to push their sons or daughters into doing something while the child is clearly and visable crying and scared. I always feel terrible for the kid. I feel it is sometimes the ego of the Dad that is on the line. You know for example if his son doesn't want to go swimming in the ocean with the other kids/Dad's, he looks wimpy. This is just not true. Great Hub! Voted Up!

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      Oh my goodness Keeley, I know exactly what you mean. We have been on vacation and my kids (3 and 4) LOVE roller coasters. Every time they would get close to the railing as we got higher up the stairs I could feel my throat and chest tighten up. It is so hard not to show that to your kids and stop your kids from doing things you know realistically that are fine. Good luck to you and thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Keeley Shea profile image

      Keeley Shea 

      10 years ago from Norwich, CT

      Very useful! I am afraid of heights and swimming in deep water too! I can feel my fear when my children do and try things that I would avoid. Swimming in the deep end - tough to watch my kids without the feeling of wanting them to get out or stay in the shallow end to keep them safe taking over but I do it!

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      LOL, well I just kept telling myself that they wouldn't put anything near me that would harm me. Thanks so much for the very kind compliments and once again for the link. It is truly appreciated.

    • visionandfocus profile image


      10 years ago from North York, Canada

      Wow, I don't know how you could have swallowed your fear of the snakes just like that in front of the children--you have my complete and utter admiration! That alone is awesome! But you're absolutely right about children modelling their parents' behaviour, often unconsciously. It really is our duty to conquer our fears so as not to pass them down to the children around us.

      I'm gonna link to this one too! Thanks for sharing! Voted up (and awesome, of course)!

    • Maggie.L profile image


      10 years ago from UK

      A fabulous hub, covering an important topic. I have a fear of public speaking - even in small groups. I think my daughters could have developed the same fear as we are all shy by nature. However I'm glad to say that this has become an important part of the school curriculum now, which means they have had the opportunity to take part in public speaking from an early age. I didn't do my first presentation until I was in university. I still remember feeling ill and not being able to sleep properly for a week before the event.

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks Laura for stopping by and commenting. I agree completely with you. I do not like scary movies and when I was a kid I snuck watching one or two when I was at a friend's house. There is a reason parents tell you no! :)

      I really like that accronym Gajanis. That is true and something that we need to keep in mind. Thanks for the comment!

    • gajanis786 profile image


      10 years ago from Pakistan

      Excellent doubt everyone including adults become fear victim one way or other during any stage of one's life.......psychologically the definition of fear is.....

      F: False

      E: Expectations

      A: Assumed

      R: Real

      If we analyse this definition we will find it almost correct in most of the cases.Thanks.

    • profile image

      Laura Van Dyke 

      10 years ago

      I think that parents should also be very careful about exposing their children to the dramatic expression of fear we can be exposed to by t.v. and movies. I remember Tarzan had a few very tense run-ins with some snakes on the t.v. show from the 60's, and I probably have a learned fear of snakes from watching that as a kid. I also can't enter the ocean without fear of a shark biting my leg, since seeing the very terrifying movie,

      Jaws. Your point is well taken, and thanks for bringing up an important lesson for parents.

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks Aunt Danette. Yes, I remember Nona's fear of swimming but you are right it did not trickle down to you guys.

      Glad you enjoyed it Sarah. Remember and reread once you guys have kids and have to get on a plane! :)

    • profile image

      Sarah A 

      10 years ago

      Love this hub!!! Great job Cara! Thank you for your thoughts on fears and the influence they may pass onto young ones.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      10 years ago from Illinois

      Cara, nice hub on handling fear so we don't pass them along. Nona was deathly afraid of water but did her best not to pass it along to her kids and I think she succeeded in all of them but me. Even though I am not afraid of the water, just don't like swimming.

      Very appropriate poll. When Uncle Marty was in college, he tried his hand at selling Bibles down south. He had a quote on a card that I still remember: The real mark of a man is not how far or how fast he runs from his problems but how he meets, faces and overcomes them. I guess you could substitute "fear" for problems.

      Voted up and useful.

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      LOL, thanks HBN. Yes, it was a very interesting lesson in fears for me. Thanks for the votes and comment!

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 

      10 years ago from South Carolina

      I voted this hub up across the board. Any teacher who goes up on stage and lets a boa be draped around her neck yet continues to smile so her students won't be afraid gets my utmost admiration!

      Seriously though, you raise some really important points about how we need to think about the messages we're sending our children when we vent our fears without thought of the impact it will have on the little ones.

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks Marzime. Glad that you found it useful. I agree that we don't intentionally hold our kids back. Awareness is the key!

      Thanks Mom. Brave on the front, not so much on the inside!!!!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      10 years ago from North Carolina

      Cara-I agree with Marzime, this is a marvelous hub filled with useful information that is sooo important. I sure hope it gets read often. I voted it all across and 'up'. (Mine is the other vote in your poll). Loved it.

      You are a brave teacher and mother to set such a wonderful example. BTW-those photos of the little ones with the python blow my mind!!!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      This is an awesome hub that should help many parents and give them a new way to look at things. I am sure noone would ever want to hold back their kids on life experiences due to their own fear. I voted up!

    • cardelean profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks Dahoglund for stopping by and commenting. I really do try to face my fears but it is not always easy. Keep trying!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I voted that I prefer to avoid things I fear, yet thinking about it I have generally tried to tackle some fears even without being successful in overcoming them. I hate public speaking, yet I have taken courses in it. I am a bit afraid of water and have taken a swimming course.

      I think the advice in your hub is excellent.


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