“Mama – It’s too scary!” (Helping Your Children Conquer Their Fears)

You know when your kids choose certain phrases? When they decide on something they are going to say over and over and over again? Apparently, my daughter loves doing that to me! Her most recent phrase is, “Mama, it’s too scary!” Well, dealing with this one has been particularly tricky for me.

Originally, it started when my husband was being silly with her at the grocery store. They were patiently waiting for my $2.99/pound chicken breast special (AH-MAZING!) to be packaged, when he decided to swing her upside down. Her usual response, that sweet little giggle, did not emerge. Instead, my daughter was the child crying LOUDLY at the meat counter saying, “Mama, it’s too scary!!!!! It’s too scary!!!”

At first, I thought “Ok, she did not enjoy that – Let’s move on.” But then, I really thought about it, and realized she now understood the feeling of being afraid. It was definitely an appropriate time to use the word “scary” and she was processing her feelings. That’s when my “proud mama” emotions kicked in!

However, she has continued to use this phrase for a number of things: geckos, big slides, bugs, and most recently the pool (which she couldn’t get enough of last summer.) I can’t determine if it is an attention seeking phrase, a true recognition of fear, or an avoidance technique for things she just doesn’t want to do.

As a mom, it’s often difficult to figure out the right way to respond to your child, isn’t it? I want my daughter to understand it is definitely OK to feel afraid, but I also want her to understand there are certain instances when she doesn’t need to be afraid. I want her to be comfortable experiencing her feelings, but I do not want to “baby” her through the process. What a difficult concept to teach a child!

So, I have been using my UNDERSTAND-ACCEPT-ENCOURAGE plan
(Please note: I use this with “real” fears. Most times I simply say, “You’re fine – Let’s move on!”)

UNDERSTAND: I want her to know I understand what she is feeling. It is so important for kids to not feel alone with their feelings. I will say things like, “I know you are scared!” Or “I understand how you are feeling.” Those simple words can put a child at ease. (Yes, even a 2-year old. They comprehend a lot more than which we give them credit.)

ACCEPT: It is also very important to accept her feelings. If children are afraid of something, we must not judge or make them feel they are wrong. Children are entitled to feel any way they please, and we want them to know that. You want your child to feel comfortable sharing his/her feelings from the get-go. Here, I say something simple again, such as, “It is Ok to feel afraid.”

ENCOURAGE: Finally, if the fear is something I want my daughter to overcome, I will encourage her to push past that fear and try something, or take a closer look at it. I never push her too far or too fast, but I want to show her she is capable of getting through whatever she may be feeling. This might mean I need to sit with her and “do” whatever it is she is scared to do. Show her she will be just fine. I really am a believer in not moving on until we defeat the fear, in one way or another.

By putting all three concepts together, you might have an experience similar to mine:

*Scene: my daughter and I are dressed in our bathing suits, sunscreen on (you all know THAT feeling of accomplishment!), ready for the Sarasota sun. With her pool toys in hand, my daughter excitedly skips over to the pool steps, jumps onto the first one, then the second, and then freezes in her tracks, “Mama, it’s too scary!”

After I originally thought, “Seriously? Now, the pool too?” I approached the situation like this… “I know you are scared, and that is Ok! But, I also know you LOVE the pool! (I said this from the pool – at the bottom of the steps, encouraging her to follow me in.) She repeated her favorite phrase, “Mama, it’s too scary!” I went to her and held her hand, slowly making the trek deeper into the pool. She was very hesitant, but I kept reassuring her she would be Ok. I was not leaving this pool without her going in and enjoying it! We spent some time sitting on the edge, kicking the water. Slowly, I started to remove myself from these situations, giving her the confidence to enjoy the pool on her own.

It didn’t take too long. Soon enough, she was swimming around, laughing, and jumping in on her own. If I had just ignored her feelings and moved on, we may never have enjoyed the three hours we spent swimming with our friends that day.

Isn’t it crazy how EVERY MOMENT is literally a learning moment for our kids? When you stop and think about the amount of learning that takes place in your child’s day, it is enormous. Of course, it isn’t possible to make everything an educational situation, but if we can take time, once in a while, to focus on these teachable moments, the learning for our children is invaluable.

Am I saying my 2-year old daughter has learned how to conquer all her fears? Not a chance! Shoot, I am still learning how to conquer some of my fears. Aren’t we all? It is a work in progress for everyone, but if we start this communication with our children early, maybe they will be better equipped for their future?

Here’s to conquering a fear this month! (And maybe you can too!)

Erica
XO

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