Dealing with fears. – Part 1. (English / Polski)

                As I go about my day I see many situations involving
other families and I like to observe how they relate to each other. In most
cases, the things that I see are disturbing. I see adults hitting their
children, laughing at them while they are in distress, and treating them like
enemies. In my experience, most adults are at war with their children and you
have to observe closely for only a few minutes to realize this. In this ongoing
war, the adults will sometimes be inconvenienced by their child’s fears and the
only objective then becomes to eradicate them so that the adult can continue
undisturbed. Some will claim that they do this for the good of the child, but
underneath I see only contempt and disgust toward a child that doesn’t behave
as they “ought to”. They are embarrassed if others see their child as
anything less than extroverted and fearless. They are frustrated with these
kinds of problems because they do not know how to help their child. I will
share some recent examples below and consider how different the adult and child
experiences can be.
                1. We went to a water park with these big slides
where people have a lot of fun. The slides are for people who are over 42”.
There is one exception – if the kid is shorter, a parent can go with him/her
(some of the slides have innertubes so you can go with someone else together).
We were waiting for our turn
and there was a big family in front of us. Around 10 people, mostly adults but
they had this one little girl. It seems like she was around two years old, no
more than two and a half. One woman was holding her, then she passed the girl
to another woman. I think the second one was her mother. The girl was crying,
she looked afraid, she said: “I don’t want to!” The woman didn’t seem
to listen but there was a moment when she went, holding the girl, to the edge
to show her everything below. It seemed to us like she just wanted to show
everything to her and go down with her afterwards. Unfortunately, I was very
disappointed later. A guy, maybe a father, was almost ready to go. He was on
one of those pontoons I mentioned before. And then, when a lifeguard told him
he was good to go, the woman quickly put the girl on his lap! The girl was
crying so much, she kept saying how much she didn’t want to go, she was not just
afraid – she was panicked! She was moving her hands and her legs, trying to run
away but the man was holding her very tightly while others were pushing them to
go down. The girl was yelling very much but the people were laughing out loud,
without any concerns about the girls’ feelings.
Later I saw this girl once
again. The same man was walking in front, then two girls and then this little
girl was walking as the last one, looking at the ground, much slower, she
looked very sad.
                2. We were at a place where you have a lot of
trampolines around so people can jump and jump for the whole day. There was one
place where you could jump into a huge pit of foam blocks and people were doing
incredible things out there. But one girl, maybe four or five, hesitated and
took a step back from the edge. Her teenage sister or a babysitter, or someone
like this, ran toward and grabbed this little girl and threw her into the pit! The
girl was crying and was visibly angry with her assailant and demanded that it
never happen again. The teenage girl apologized and agreed.
                3. I was at a playground with Alicia and there was a
family – parents and three kids. The youngest one was a girl of around three,
then one boy around seven and another boy in the middle. The playground has monkey
bars and kids can go up and then slide down a pole as firemen do. Alicia did it
several times and then the boy wanted to do the same. He went up and he tried
positioning himself for the slide down for a little bit. Alicia was trying to
help him by saying how she did it. The boy got scared and didn’t want to go
forward or back. He then said he’d better just go down a different way (but
there was none). Then his parents got up and they went closer to him. The man
grabbed the boy’s legs without saying a word and he raised them a little bit so
they were in the air. Then the boy started to cry a little bit, telling the man
to put his legs back onto the bar. The boy was holding the pole with his hands
much stronger than before and I could see how tense he was. The woman was
repeating: “go down, this is safe, we’ll help you!” The boy said he
didn’t want to go down and he told the man once again to put his legs back.
Then the man started to slowly pull the boy down the pole… The boy cried more
than before. He was gripping the pole so tightly that it was difficult for him
to move his hands, so it wasn’t easy to get down. Once he was on the ground, he
was still crying and the woman… spanked him on his butt! The boy stopped
crying immediately. After this, he came closer to her and hugged her. She
didn’t return the hug.
                Some people’s approaches say: “kids have to get
over their fears! (…) They say they don’t like something because they don’t
know it – the same with trying new kinds of food – they won’t want to eat it
until they try and, anyway, how can you say you’re afraid of something if you
don’t know how it feels? (…) If they’re forced to do something once, they’ll
get used to it and they’ll see it’s not scary! (…) If they’re afraid of
water, they need to be pushed more and more so they can get used to it. If you
leave it like this, they won’t be able to make friends in the future because
they’ll be afraid of everything! (…) Don’t make wimps out of the kids! They
need to know what life is about. (…) They’re afraid of things because they
don’t know how much fun they’d have. (…) They don’t think rationally, they’d
jump from a bridge because they won’t know how high it is and they might kill
themselves. So sometimes you need to interfere in their lives because they know
much less than you do.” And many, many more.
(I took the examples above from the Internet.)
              So now, let me put those comments into my own words,
into the way I understand it…
              Kids are not smart and they don’t think the way older
people want them to think because they don’t know anything about life and things
around. So that’s why parents’ role is to put stuff in their heads the way
adults see everything, without letting kids find their own way. So then, when a
kid is scared of something, the best way is to force him to do it, even if he’s
screaming, crying and saying how much he doesn’t want to. If you let him be
scared, you’ll raise a wimp. The kid’s reaction is just because he doesn’t know
what’s waiting for him and, in a parent’s eyes, it’ll be fun so it’s obvious
the kid will like it, too. And then he’ll just get used to it. His fear is
irrational because he has no idea how it feels so just push him to do it then.
Of course he’ll be thankful once he gets over his fear by being forced to do
what he’s afraid of. The fear, the panic, the feeling of betrayal and lost
trust will resolve by itself and vanish from the child’s life never to
resurface again.
                I suppose you read the examples I gave you above. Let’s
see just three more I can think of.
1. A boy is scared of big dogs; he hides behind a parent’s legs
when he sees one; no way he’ll pet a dog bigger than a Chihuahua.
What the boy may think and
every dog he sees will bite him and he’ll die; he imagines the dogs
look at him thinking “I hate you”; he doesn’t know if they’re nice or
What others may think:
a neighbor’s dog is very friendly and has never bitten anyone; there’s nothing
to be scared of and the kid isn’t in any danger; it’s just his imagination and
it’s kind of cute when he’s that scared; he shouldn’t think about the worst
case in the first place, at least not until he tries.
Would you: close this
boy in a room full of big dogs that are trained to not bite but which he was
still scared of, so the kid can “get over the fear” and “get
used to” them?
2. A little girl has to go down the stairs alone without holding
her parent’s hand (the parent’s hands are full); she’s crying.
What the girl may think and
she’s afraid; she can’t reach the railing and it seems to her like
the stairs are very high and she’s too small to make it and may be seriously
hurt or even die; she doesn’t know how much time she needs to reach the bottom
so what if she’s too tired; she’s afraid nobody will wait for her to go down the
stairs and then she’ll be left alone.
What others may think:
this is just going down the stairs which is one of the easiest things in the
world; nothing bad is likely to happen to her; this is just unreasonable
hysteria; she sees her mother’s hands are full and she just doesn’t understand
that her mother can’t help her this time.
Would you: try to
persuade her that going down stairs is not dangerous and that she should ignore
her own natural sensations of fear and do something in spite of it?
3. A boy doesn’t want to go to sleep, even if he’s tired and it’s
very late; he’s crying and each time his mother puts him in bed, he gets up and
walks somewhere else.
What the boy may think and
he’s afraid that when he falls asleep he’ll stop breathing; he
doesn’t know that people can breathe while sleeping so he’s trying his best not
to fall asleep; he’s afraid he’ll die; he has no idea how the human body works;
it seems to him like his mother doesn’t care if he’ll be alive in the morning
or not.
What others may think:
he just doesn’t want to go to sleep; he’d rather stay up all night long and
play; he is making it all up; he needs to sleep because he’ll be tired
Would you: turn off the
light, go out of the room, close and lock the door leaving the crying and
scared boy inside to face his fears and see that nothing bad happens.
                And now let’s take adults instead of children because
they know much more about life… And yet still have similar fears.
1. A 25 year-old woman doesn’t want to jump into water from some
rocks when her friends do it without any problems.
What the woman may think
and feel:
she knows exactly how high it is and that the water is deep
enough; she can swim but she’s afraid that after she’s deep under water, she
won’t be able to swim up and she’ll drown.
What others may think:
other people do it so they wonder why she doesn’t want to; she’s in panic which
is irrational because she can swim; she shouldn’t be that scared because it’s
deep so she won’t break her spine.
Would you: push her
down from the rocks to help her face her fears and see that nothing bad happens?
2. A 32 year-old woman is scared of cats and she runs away when she
sees them.
What the woman may think
and feel:
she imagines the cat will scratch her to death; she can see cats
as very scary and dangerous animals that want to hurt her; she doesn’t want to risk
being hurt in any way.
What others may think:
it’s funny and irrational for other people whose favorite pets are cats;
they’re so cute and cuddly; there’s definitely no reason to be afraid of cats;
this is a good thing to make jokes of.
Would you: laugh at her
in a situation when she sees three cats and she’s crying, her hands are shaking
and she can’t talk at all, to show her how irrational her fear is?
3. A father of three children doesn’t want to go roller skating
with them.
What the man may think and
he imagines he’ll fall and people will laugh at him; he’s afraid
he’ll feel humiliated and that people will make fun of him later over and over
again; he doesn’t know what people think; he won’t be able to feel comfortable;
he remembers a time when he fell on his knees and his wife couldn’t stop
laughing because it was “so funny”.
What others may think:
he’s an adult; he’s making a problem out of something that doesn’t really
exist; he is a wimp; he’s acting like a baby.
Would you: force him to
go and feel extremely stressed that he’ll have this feeling he hates so that he
will discover that nothing bad happens?


                I hope you can see how a person’s fears can seem
completely irrational and bizarre to another while ALSO being completely
rational and real to the person with the fear. We do not have access to another
person’s reality. While it may be tempting to imagine what another is
experiencing it is rarely accurate and can result in the other feeling
misunderstood. The first challenge is to learn what the other person is
experiencing. I say challenge because this requires first earning the trust of
the other as well as briefly putting aside one’s own reality while considering
another’s instead of imposing your own reality on them. I will discuss this at
greater length in my next post.
Feel free to post a comment and to give me other examples if you have some!
Talk to you in two weeks!
Aga & Nathan