Ghosts, witches and death are entities and events most people fear. However, Halloween is one period of the year when we sublimate our fear for a day of fun. If children are going to grow up to become well rounded adults, they must be able to work through fear.
Fear is a basic and indispensable part of the human make up, and like all strong emotions, it can become an asset or a liability depending upon how it is dealt with and used. Children must be taught how to manage fear instead of letting it manage them. Those who learn how to manage fear, as indicated in the first sentence of this piece may even learn to enjoy it in small doses.
The earliest fears we have are of loud noises, losing our parents/caregivers and their love and of falling. The fear of the unknown typically follows—strangers, animals and so forth. Then there is the fear of what is understood—fire and death. Of these fears, the fear of losing parental/caregiver presence and their love has been found paramount. The late child and developmental psychologist Erik Erikson considered this THE key in early human development (Trust versus Mistrust).
In teaching children how to manage reasonable amounts of fear, it is well to encourage games and experiences having an element of adventure. A great deal of the excitement of many of the old adult-child games such as: “hide and seek”, “cops and robbers”, “search and find” developed from the fun of injecting small amounts of fear to help children manage fear but also to enjoy it. The infant game of “peek-a-boo” plays out a baby’s basic fear of losing her/his mother. “Peek-a-boo” asks the infant “Where is mom?” The quick answer “There she is!” Mom goes away but she always returns and everything is alright and safe.
As children grow, playing swings, climbing on metal stationary bars on a playground and climbing on then sliding down slides helps them deal with fears of losing support. Exploring and search play helps young children deal with fear of the unknown as do adventure stories.
Since too much fear of the feeling itself may cause fear to build up to the point of panic, parents/caregivers and teachers who help children deal with their fears when they accept and understand them are great assets in a child learning how to cope with them. Adults also can help by explaining away unrealistic causes of fears and by making reassuring plans for meeting real dangers safely.
Saying to a young child afraid of the dark in an angry, unrealistic tone of voice (“You chicken! No one your age is afraid of the dark. That’s babyish!), is extremely harmful. It makes a child ashamed of her/his feelings he or she cannot help. Now the child has develop another fear—the fear of losing a significant adult’s approval, love and support. This can be absolutely devastating to any person of any age. We now know that when fear is added to fear and not immediately dealt with such individuals experience lifelong fears, anxiety, depression, irrational behaviors, digestive problems, night terrors, neuroses even psychoses that affect others around them in an adverse way.
Lastly, it is wise to teach children caution in those areas where they can learn to take greater responsibility when the parent/caregiver is not present. Such as knowing when a swing is not safe; a tricycle is not safe to ride on; when it not appropriate to ride in a car with an adult. In doing so, parents/caregivers develop valuable safety habits as well as ways to deal with fear and build up solid courage in their child’s life well beyond their childhood.
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