A little girl came in to Play Shoppe on Friday and proudly proclaimed to me that she was four-years-old now.
Soon after that announcement, this same little girl approached me with a very serious look and stated,”I get very scared when you flick the lights off and on to let everyone know that it’s clean-up time. I’m afraid that we’re having a tornado.”
Fear – anxiety – lurks in some ways in all of us. Not always obvious, certainly not in this confidently boastful little girl who announced her new age, nor even in the same little girl who was able to speak up so strongly about her fears of flickering lights. But it is still there, very much, almost six months after the tornado raced through the neighborhood- her fear is there.
I appologized for not realizing that and asked her would it help if I let her know when I was going to flick the lights. In fact, I said, “would you like to turn them off and on for me?” She declined. Her own decision was to stand by me with her eyes closed.
It’s easy to dismiss our children’s fears as silly, nonsense or attention seeking. Often we’d like to just make them be unafraid so we tell them there’s nothing to be afraid of, to stop, that they’re a “big boy” now and big boys aren’t afraid, or we compare their behavior to other children’s who aren’t afraid. Our frustration often takes over, for haven’t we had this conversation before?
Most young children are not yet as adept at addressing their fears so directly as this young girl did to me. More often your child will act out his fear through anger, tantrums, refusal to do something he’s told or aggressive behavior that we mistake for misbehavior.
It falls to the parent to be the detective in finding out what’s fueling this behavior.
As parents we can strive to understand and accept these strong feelings our child might be experiencing – but certainly not all the displayed behaviors. Children need to know that it’s okay for them to feel angry, sad, frustrated, but definitely not okay to hit or hurt anyone. We need to help children name their emotions and then together, find good solutions.
Many times, this kind of emotion coaching cannot happen in the throes of a child’s distraut. During that time, keep everyone safe and wait to talk things over and find new ways to help them when all has calmed down.
Spending time while reading books and pointing out how the characters are acting or looking in the illustrations, observing other children who are feeling sad, angry, afraid, frustrated,and naming our own emotions that we are experiencing will provide a child with the vocabulary, the awareness, the acceptance to be able to voice his/her own emotions to you.
And together you can try and find solutions as this little girl did – coming closer every time to facing her fear – standing by me and closing her eyes.
If you’d like some help in figuring out what might be fueling your child’s upsets, give me a call at The Parenting Place, 784-8125.