I read a blog written by Madeline Levine, PhD that spoke about a pre-teen who was walking home alone from school when he passed by a fenced yard that contained a growling, barking dog that jumped up on the fence and scared him. The boy went home and told his parents and a discussion followed about the various responses the parents could take. They could have the child walk a different route home and thus avoid the frightening situation. They could walk with him down the street and pass by the house with the dog and hopefully assure their child the dog could not hurt him. Or they could have any number of other responses. Some might be better than others.
One thing you don’t want to do is tell your child he shouldn’t be afraid. You may wish he wasn’t afraid and so too might he wish he wasn’t afraid. But he is. Feelings are our instinctive reactions to the events around us. They aren’t right or wrong, good or bad. They just are. His fears need to be acknowledged and accepted. You don’t want to shame someone for something they feel.
While you want to accept that he feels what he does you also want to help him figure out what to do about it. Since most people don’t enjoy being afraid, thinking about how to deal with it and hopefully overcome it is time well spent. In the case of this child, I would first ask him how he wants to deal with it. Ideally he has a solution you can support and follow. Maybe he wants to walk another way and while that is an option I wouldn’t want to have that be the first one you try out. While avoiding fearful things is a life skill we all need to have, it is also important to learn how to face fears and diminish their power over you.
There is a time in a child’s life when he needs his parents to accompany him in scary situations. And there is a time when he needs to face those fears by himself and know he is stronger than the fear. There are no set guidelines when each of those times occur, but if you find yourself leaning heavily on the parent accompaniment side you might want to consider letting go a bit more.
Children need to learn to be independent. Adults need to learn it as well. Certainly we all get by with some help from our friends and family, but we all also know the bottom line is we are responsible for our well-being. It isn’t easy facing those things that make us afraid. There are times we need to push them away, avoid them or otherwise not directly deal with them. There are also plenty of times when we would benefit by focusing on our fear and what we can do to overcome them.
If you do have fears that you are having difficulty overcoming you might want to reach out for some help. However much help you are getting in running your life chances are you could use some more. Which means reaching out some more. Which means there is one more fearful thing to do. When fear comes into play life gets a lot harder.
I was taught that between you and what you want in life is fear. It is what holds us back. While you can try to get around the fear in your pursuit of what you want, the odds are what you are afraid of will ultimately show up and you will need to deal with it. Sort of like Harrison Ford in one of those Indiana Jones movies where he was afraid of snakes and ended up having to go through a pit of them to save the day.
Some people like roller coasters. Other people avoid them entirely. It is the same roller coaster for everyone, but some like it and others don’t. We all have our own levels of fear that get triggered by events. While we all may fear some of the same things it is how the fear affects us and how we deal with it that really tells the story.
The way to handle fear is to acknowledge you have it, but also acknowledge that you have the power to build it up and/or build it down. Learning how to gain better mastery of fear is a skill set everyone can learn. You can improve your skills at managing your fear and any improvement is going to be appreciated. It may help you to realize that how fear manifests itself in you is your own creation. And what you create you can destroy.