Kid Fears: How NOT to Deal


To the jerk who took it upon himself to recite the urban legend of Bloody Mary to my 6-year-old, thanks a lot you a-hole. As if parenting isn’t hard enough with incessant arguments about allotted screen-time, breakfast choices, and having to change underwear (every single day), now we have to add in frightening, bone-chilling, I’m-never-going-to-the-bathroom-alone-again stupid urban legends.

Have you ever tried explaining fact versus fiction to a child? Cartoons versus real-life is a doable task, but trying to have them discern between what appears real and what is not, is much harder. Add in the age of YouTube, Photoshop, and digital artistry and literally nothing is as it seems.

Here’s how I tried to calm my son down about the aforementioned urban legend, which, I would NOT recommend doing because he spent the entire night in our bed, clinging to my side.

Parenting fail #1

Tell your child to watch you do the one single thing they are absolutely terrified about (i.e. looking into a dimly-lit mirror, preferably by candle for added effect, and saying the dreaded Bloody Mary phrase three times in a row). I did this in pure daylight, while my son screamed and hysterically begged me not to, while huddled in a ball in the corner. I visited a few child therapist blog sites after this and they highly recommended never downplaying a child’s fear by acting sarcastic or taking it light-hearted (oops), and rather, said to take their fear very seriously, and of course, try talking them through it. I felt like a complete a$$hole the rest of the night as my son found every excuse in the book to not leave the same room I was in, and would only go to the bathroom with all the lights on, while talking to me, and while making sure he had an excuse as to why I needed to be standing right there.

Lesson learned: Do not patronize your child by trying to show them how ‘un-scary’ their fear is by acting it out. It won’t work and it will make you look like the wicked witch of the west.

Parenting fail #2

Compare your child’s fear with something ‘realistic.’ Rather than being afraid of an urban legend, I tried telling my son that it was a much better use of his time and energy to be afraid of burglars or tornados. You know, something realistic. TERRIBLE idea; he’s actually petrified of those too. To offset my mistake, I tried throwing in something dumb, like rattlesnake bites…. By this point he was staring at me wide-eyed, wanting to know how burglars would break in and what they would steal… most notably if they would steal him, and if rattlesnakes could climb stairs and if he would hear the rattle before the bite… I feel like a terrible human at this point, maybe even the worst mom ever.

Lesson learned: Comparison is the thief of all joy. Do not use comparisons unless… well, just don’t.

Parenting fail #3

Tell your child that kids who try to scare other kids are small-minded individuals with nothing better to do with their lives. While I may believe this, I also realize that kids are kids… and they do dumb kid things. And kids also talk to each other and share things they’ve heard and learned along the way (things like, Santa isn’t real, boys like to kiss girls, and my mom thinks you guys are all small-minded people). Your child will regurgitate everything you tell them, so unless you want his friends’ parents knowing what you really think of their child, use constructive criticism to correct and help them learn.

Lesson learned: Kids don’t have filters. Make sure that whatever you are putting into their heads is ok to be repeated… continuously… and likely at a very loud volume (kids do not grasp the concept of whispering).

So what is the best way to calm your child’s fears? For starters, do none of the things I mentioned above. Instead, take your child seriously and have them talk to you about what makes their fear so scary. If they can’t seem to find the right words to tell you, have them draw a picture and describe it. Try to help them separate fact from fiction, and let them sleep in your bed for a night or two if needed; kids are little, and nighttime can be scary (tornados and rattlesnakes can be really scary too). Do not talk to them about their fear right before bedtime, but rather, when it’s light outside and when there is time to have a positive distraction afterwards.

I am happy to report that after 2 fearful nights, my son is going to the bathroom like a champ once again, and has returned to his own bed. I’m not sure the urban legend has completely dissipated from his mind, but kids seem to have a short memory for certain events, and thankfully, this was one of them. And circling back to the jerk who thought it was a good idea to tell a Kindergartner this urban legend, I kindly ask you to pick on someone your own size and to never scare my child again. Do not poke the momma bear.


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