How to Scare the Hell out of a Child
Watch What You Say to Your Kids
When I was very young. About six or seven I suppose. My Nan told me her next door neighbour was a witch. I know now that she meant witch in all whole other sense of the word. I was a kid, I thought she was a pointy hat sort of a witch. The witches that turn little boys into frogs and keep little girls tied up in their cellar.
Of course my Nan had no idea this was what I thought. She made a flippant comment one day, probably after a particularly bad encounter with said neighbour and the rest as they say, is history.
She was a witch and that was that. I was terrified every time I heard her in the back garden. Nan's garden was blessed with a particularly high wooden fence so I felt a little protected from the witch's spells but not all that much.
I'd arrive at my Nan's house with my parents and scream if her neighbour so much as looked out of the window. My Mum must have wondered how I was going to get on in life. Of course The Witch had really crazy hair and she wore tons of eyeliner and bright pink lipstick too. A crime against fashion it may have been, but a spell-making, child catcher it did not make the poor woman.
Kids Take Things Literally
They really do. My Dad was very ill whilst having chemo and he was suffering a really bad cough. My four year old nephew asked what was wrong when he was having a particularly bad coughing fit one day and my dad replied 'I have a frog in my throat'
My Dad died a few months later and a few months later again, Freddie said 'Why was there a frog in Grandad's throat? Did it make him die?' He thought Dad had a real life frog in his throat for all of those months and we had no idea.
We all felt so bad that he'd gone all of this time thinking Dad had been killed by a murderous frog. But we didn't know. He took it as fact. Grandad had a frog in his throat and that was that.
Stop telling Kids to Be Careful
That's all we say to young children. 'Be careful' either this will make them terrified of injury and scared to have fun or they will pay no heed at all.
The problem with shouting be careful! at them is that it's such a general term. Most kids will have no idea what you actually mean. Be careful could mean anything couldn't it? Don't stand in that dirt, don't touch that dodgy looking plant with the purple leaves, don't run, don't fall over.....
When we keep telling our kids that there is danger at every turn, they might well miss out on some great outdoor activities through fear. Kids should be kids. I'd rather have seen my son Harry at the park or climbing trees than sitting at home glued to the TV or his xbox.
Why don't we say have fun and be done with it?
Encourage Kids to Open Up
I guess this is the issue. We tell our kids to tell us the big stuff. To say if they are being bullied, if they feel sick or if their teacher never picks them for the head teacher's award but we don't tell them to open up about their everyday concerns.
I was a very nervous and shy child. I was scared to do anything just incase I got hurt or died. I didn't climb trees, I didn't fly down the death slide, I didn't let the bigger kids push me on the swings or the roundabout. I was a complete and utter wimp. The thing is that I wanted to do all of those things and I didn't because I was one of those kids that listened intently when my Mum told me to be careful. After all, she was keeping me alive so I had to do what she said. If she said something was dangerous then I believed in to be a death trap.
None of this was my Mum's fault. I was just born that way. She wasn't even uptight about danger or kids having fun. I was the uptight one.
If only I'd shared my concerns about nuclear war and witches. She'd have been able to put my mind at rest. She'd tell me that the chances of me melting in a gust of radiation were slim to none. She'd have told me that real life witches with broomsticks who ate frogs that used to be children, were the stuff fairy tales were made of. But children don't ask, they believe whole heartedly without question. What our parents or indeed any adult says to us when we are young gets set in our heads and stays there until we get older and a bit wiser.