C has a long history of being completely terrified of miscellaneous things. Some of them, I totally get. Others – like bark chips, for example – seemed to come out of nowhere. Right now, it’s birds, spiders, and crocodiles.
About two months ago, we were getting ready for bed when C saw a spider on the bathroom floor. I was washing my face when I heard screaming. I looked up to see C, half-nekkid, plastered against the wall and screaming hysterically.
I will admit, spiders aren’t my favorite things either. I really don’t like their legs. And seeing a particularly big one – quite frankly, even thinking about a big one – makes my skin crawl. But I picked that spider up and threw it in the toilet without thinking twice about it. Granted, it was a really small spider, but still: I picked it up with my bare hands. I deserve a medal.
C stopped screaming went back to taking off her pants.
Up until about a month ago, I’m pretty sure C thought I wasn’t scared of anything. She sometimes says things to me like, “remember when you took that vacuum and you SUCKED that spider RIGHT UP?” Why yes I do, kiddo. And I was scared shitless and I did it anyway.
But C didn’t know I was scared, because I didn’t tell her. In fact, I pretended not to be scared, thinking my fear would make hers worse.
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking: I don’t think we are doing our kids any service by pretending not to be scared. Bravery isn’t about the absence of fear. It’s about acknowledging fear, but not giving into it. C is scared of things I wouldn’t expect her to handle, like spiders. But she’s also scared to stand up for herself when a kid takes her lovey. Sometimes, I catch her as she avoids sitting next to another child, already anticipating having her lovey taken.
In the past few weeks, I’ve used incidents like the spider to talk about fear and bravery. I say things like, “YOWZA that was scary! I am so glad that’s over! Were you scared of that spider? I was too!” I also ask her to help me in the process of taking the spider outside*, announcing “We are so brave for doing something scary!” when we’re done.
I’m not asking for an overnight acceptance of spiders (after all, I’ve got almost three decades on her and I still hate them!), but I’m hoping to use everyday bravery to help her gain confidence, slowly but surely. Up until now, she’s been asked to be brave in instances where she really shouldn’t have to be – like the time she encountered a very pushy goat and couldn’t sleep for weeks – and I’m hoping she’ll learn that you can be cautious and brave.
How do you handle your child’s fears?
*For the record, I save almost every spider. I didn’t save the spider in this story because I didn’t have any clothes on, and the situation – as you can tell – was a dire emergency.