Finland is pretty dark and gloomy at this time of year. Thanks to the late sunrise, morning feels like the middle of the night…
As we muddled about in the dark this morning, my son asked me to stay with him as he went to the bathroom.
He was scared.
When unexpected fears arise, it’s hard not to hark back to the way we were brought up.
Reassurance such as: ‘there’s nothing to be afraid of… don’t be silly… get over it…’
Sometimes even a joke or teasing to calm the fear.
These are natural and common responses from adults. Perhaps they solve the immediate problem, but sometimes they push the fear inwards and make one feel ashamed for even bringing it up.
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive.”
The following tips might help you navigate your child’s fears while still maintaining a connection with them.
1. Acknowledge the fear/emotion. Let your child know that you understand that they are scared and perhaps even reveal how you used to be scared of the same thing?
In the example of being afraid of the dark: “I know how you feel. I used to be afraid of the dark as well.”
2. Explain the situation. Don’t discount the fear. Do not use lines such as ‘don’t be silly… or that’s not scary…’
Related to the fear of darkness, “Yes, it is dark. The lights are off and it feels like night. Sometimes it feels scary because you can’t actually see!”
3. Reassure. Respond with confidence. Kids often look to adults for cues on their behaviour or safety.
Again, back to the dark bathroom story- “I’m going to switch the light on, so you can see better.”
Sometimes, we read such ‘tips’ and think how am I supposed to remember it all? And perhaps you won’t…
But the most important response in the midst of ANY big emotion is empathy.
Exercising empathy doesn’t mean that you need to have gone through the same fear or episode in order to relate to the person.
Even if you’ve never felt afraid of the dark, you certainly know what if feels like to feel scared.
Start with that.
Acknowledge the emotion rather than the event.
It’s a great ‘go to’ in the face of big emotions.
- Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.