Lately we've had to walk a bit of a fine line when it comes to Jacob's fears. I've come to realize that kids are only as frightened as your cues suggest they should be. I suppose there's sometimes initial fear of something completely unknown, but again, once they take a minute to notice that grown-up cues indicate all is well, usually their fears subside.
The other day I retweeted a quote from someone else (yep, follow me--@rybismama) that said something to the effect of, "Kids are happy because they don't have a file in their minds called 'All the things that could go wrong'." And it's so true! So many kids are fearless until they have input otherwise.
Lately we've had quite a few strong windstorms. During one of them we lost power. Right at this moment the winds are very strong, gusting up to 60mph. The house is creaking a bit and the windows are rattling. There's a constant dull roar outside as the wind blows through the big trees in our neighborhood. It's a little unnerving at times, but I'm doing my best poker face in Jacob's presence. I don't want him to see that it bothers me, for fear he'll have an ongoing phobia of windstorms from here on out. I have to do the same thing with thunderstorms, as he hasn't really noticed those yet either, but I can't help but wonder if this will be the year he acquires that fear.
Lately he's shown fear of "bad guys". Obviously he knows that his "good guy" action figures play against bad guys, and he's aware of policemen and the "bad guys" they chase after. He asks if there are bad guys in our city. He wants to know if they'll come into our house. On one hand I think it's important for him to know that there are bad people out there. How many parents have told their kids to stay close to them out in public so no bad people take them away? I know we have. You don't want to alarm your child, really, but you need to give them a good reason to follow the rules sometimes. The downside is that it can plant the seeds of fear down the road. If there are people that could snatch him, what other bad things can those people do?
The tough thing is finding that fine line where you acknowledge that there's something to fear out there in the world, but help your child understand that they're safe. Of course, we can't protect them from everything, so it's hard to explain the reality of things. For example, when Jacob asked if the bad guys would come into our house, of course I wanted to say that, no, bad guys wouldn't come into our house. But, God forbid, what happens if someone does break into our house? Will he think I lied? Will I lose his trust? How do you answer complex questions on a three-year-old level without bending the truth too far?
The same thing goes for talks about death and sickness. He has some understanding of death and sickness, but what's too much information for a three year old? He knows that people die, and while we explain that we won't die for a long time, I suppose there's always that chance. Does he really need to know that? There have been situations (like the young lacrosse player here that tragically died not too long ago) that he's vaguely aware of, and it's hard to explain the truth without scaring him. Heck, it scares me thinking of him playing lacrosse after what happened to that boy, but again, I don't want to instill unreasonable fears in him just because of one freak accident.
Many days when I pick Jacob up from daycare, he's hesitant to leave. He's usually engrossed in a puzzle or game when I get there, and I suppose it's hard to stop it instantly when I arrive. One day the teachers told him that the boogeyman comes out afterhours and he needed to leave before that happened. He's convinced that the boogeyman eats kids, and he asks a lot of questions about it. I don't want to lie to him, but I need all the help I can get to get him out of there on time. Someday he'll know it's all a ruse, but for now I'm hoping it's a harmless enough fear that serves a purpose. Of course, when he's afraid that boogeyman-style monsters are lurking in his room, I'm sure I'll regret it.
How and when do you start working on instilling healthy fear into your child? Do you do it proactively so you're ready when something happens? Do you wait as long as possible and hope they're old enough to understand once they need to? I'm not sure there's any good answer, so I guess we'll just continue to do what parents tend to do best--go with our gut and see how it goes.