Friday, April 9, 2010

Healthy Fear

As a mom of four, I know how hard it is to raise kids today. The never ending battle to teach them right and wrong, sympathy and empathy, good and bad, safe and dangerous. There are a million opportunities and ways to do this each day. Whichever methods or words we choose, we all have to go to bed knowing we have done the best we can to keep our children safe, healthy, and happy. A recent trip to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles aka Defunct Meandering Vexationstation) got me thinking.

A Grandmother was sitting next to me with her 3-4 year old granddaughter. The little girl (donning adorably huge fuzzy bunny ears) was singing songs and reciting her alphabet, with her grandmother encouraging her to sing louder. It was very cute. I made sure to look up after each segment of her impromptu show, just to smile. Kids love an audience. Other people nearby cheered and complimented the little girl. It's funny how bureaucracy can strike up these kinds of kinships.

Where the day took a turn for me was when the little girl started asking her grandmother about strangers. She pointed at the woman who clapped, the nice gentleman who said good job, and me who had smiled, and asked if we were strangers. Her grandmother answered yes, which we were. She went on to ask if everyone around her were strangers, which prompted another obvious yes from the grandmother. Then the little girl announced that her mother said ALL strangers wanted to steal her.

"Do all these strangers want to steal me away?"

" Yes, " her grandmother replied again. "You are just a little girl. You can't talk to strangers ever."

I couldn't help but glance up from my book to see her eyes widen as she looked around again. Her songs and dancing stopped. Can you imagine the fear pumping through that child's body at that moment? I could see it.

I'm not in the position to say that it was the right or wrong thing to teach that little girl. Kids are inherently trusting and it's scary to think how easily they can be manipulated into dangerous situations. But I do admit that hearing that type of blanket fear being taught worries me. What happens when that little girl grows up? Will she harbor this underlying wide spread fears that her mother and grandmother have taught, and obviously at some level still believe? That is not only sad, but scary. Fear is the foundation of prejudice and hate. I'm afraid that teaching our children to fear everyone and everything will set the stage for some serious problems in the future and a huge backslide for humanity (that was a bit dramatic, but you know what I mean)

Anyone who really knows me is snickering at parts of this post. I am pretty much the most paranoid parent around, second only to my husband. I am cautious, sometimes overly so, but I try (or at least I hope) to convey to my kids that there are possible rewards and consequences in every situation. There is a balance, a healthy amount of fear needed to keep children aware and careful, but still able to grow into open and trusting adults. That is what I want most for my kids, because I believe that's where they'll find happiness.

So, maybe the key is adding another goal to my nightly ritual. When I lie down to fall asleep knowing that I've done everything in my power to keep my children safe, healthy, and happy, I will also be more aware of teaching them something that helps them become a better person out in the world when they become adults.

Just think of the possibilities if our kids could be just a little more respectful, accepting, and understanding to each other as adults. Imagine them acting and thinking from these emotions and not from fear.


Kristin : )


  1. Instilling that kind of fear is SUCH a bad idea. Not only is it borderline cruel to freak a kid out like that, it's just wrongheaded in terms of safety. What if the kid is in public one day and gets lost? Should she fear EVERYONE? What would she do then? Look terrified and helpless? Police officers are rarely around.

    Isn't it better to foster her innate intuition about *which* strangers could help her? I always taught my kids to ask for help from a mommy or a nanny in that situation. Sure, women commit crimes against children, but far less often.

  2. I agree, it is so wrong to instill that kind of fear in a child. Have you ever heard of the book "Protecting the Gift" by Gavin De Becker. It has been years since I read it, but I recall it had some good information on how to properly teach children how to protect themselves without scaring them as the grandmother did.


  3. I'll make it unanimous ~ fear of that kind is nothing but destructive. I was an extremely overprotective mother, but it never would have occured to me to tell my daughter that "everyone" around her wanted to steal her! How sad. Your sentiments are wonderful, Kristin. Keep your children as safe as you can without damaging them in the process. Dani