Don't Talk to Strangers: How To Help Children Deal With Fear

I'm often in awe of how adept we've become in teaching children how to fear things. We do it without even realizing it, and we do it sometimes knowing it, and with intent.

While I think fear can be incredibly useful (and helpful in fact) when it's a natural response to things that can genuinely harm us, teaching my kids to fear storms and strangers (and spiders... and dogs... and activities I don't want them to get hurt doing) is something I want to be very careful about.

I consider it a big part of my job to teach my kids how to be autonomous individuals in the world- on their own, and without me- and I don't think I'd be doing my job by teaching them to fear the world rather than how to intelligently, and safely interact with it.

My daughter's first lucid experience of a storm was also one of many great lessons about teaching fear. Hearing the thunder crashing directly over our heads, she exhibited a surface fear- an emotion that she sort of 'tried on' to see what my reaction would be. If I reinforced her fear (fawning over her, or dwelling on how scary storms were), she'd remain afraid of the storm. Maybe the next time it stormed she would be even more afraid, and have a greater need for external comfort to cope.

Lightning Storm
Being afraid of weather when there's an actual threat to safety is a good thing. It's a natural instinct that protects our well being. Being afraid of some lightning and thunder that has no possible way of harming us is completely useless fear.
So instead of nurturing a useless fear, I decided to talk to my daughter about how neat thunderstorms are. Granted, I genuinely find storms cool and exciting, so it was a really easy thing to do.
I try to think about how my kids are perceiving the words that I use. They don't have my level of comprehension, so I try to be careful about assuming that they know what I mean. They don't (at least, not all the time).
  • I kept it simple, saying things like "WOW!" and "How cool is that?!", "This is so neat!"    
  • We counted between the booms of thunder (why not master math and fear at the same time?!). 
  • We stood at the window, pointing out lightning flashes. 
  • I made sure every time she looked at me, she saw an expression of absolute wonder. 
  • No concern. No worry. No fear. 
  • After the storm had rolled on we even went to YouTube and found amazing videos of different types of lightning. 

Is it the end of the world if my daughter's afraid of thunderstorms? Of course not. But there will always be storms... and strangers.

I can't conscionably tell my daughter not to talk to strangers then ask them for candy on Halloween, sit on their laps because it's Christmas, or be sweet and polite to them all of a sudden because I bumped into them at the bank. She needs to develop a sense of when a situation is truly dangerous, and what to do about it. Robbing her of wonder to give her fear won't do that.

How do you think we should talk to kids about fear?

And hey, you should come visit me on YouTube HERE.