Should you therefore allow your child to shy away from all situations that induce fear? Not at all; this would be avoiding the problem, not facing or solving it. But before you act when a child shows fear, put yourself in her place. Some children are acutely aware of physical danger. They may be afraid of dogs or even cats – perhaps the noise from a vacuum cleaner fills them with terror. To them these are the things they do not control and whose behaviour they cannot predict. For example, a dog may be twice the height of a toddler and when he smiles’ may appear to want to gobble her up. The powerful vacuum cleaner that roars around the house and devours dirt could to her way of thinking suck her up too. If you take a little time to look at it her way you will see that this is really not being silly’, and that forcing a child mercilessly into a fearful situation will only make her fear you more than the original source. Instead of convincing her that you can be trusted to help her, your behaviour will make her insecure and confused in her feelings.
Telling her that she’s a baby’ and that there is nothing to be afraid of may be true, but it will not help solve her problem. Depending on the child’s temperament and the degree of her fear, you could help her overcome it by acknowledging it, talking about it and teaching her how to come to terms with it. By helping her to identify her fears and showing her how they can be handled, you will be fulfilling your function as a parent in a positive, meaningful way.
So much of what we do in later life hinges on how we cope with our fears that learning how to recognise and handle them from infancy is one of the most valuable lessons you can teach your child.
For instance, if she is afraid to visit friends because they have a dog, you can start by identifying her fear. Tell her that you know how she feels when she sees the dog. Describe what he must look like to her; He’s big and he jumps up on people and his long tail wags and nearly bumps you over, and he makes funny panting noises, and his teeth look as though they can bite hard . . .’ Watch her carefully and her face will show if you have touched on her particular fears. Then, having identified the problem, tell her what she can expect. Yes, the dog does jump, and he can knock little girls over, but he won’t bite and doesn’t mean to hurt (presuming that he really is not dangerous). It’s just that he is so pleased to see friends that he gets excited and jumps up and wags his tail because he isn’t able to talk, he has to use his body to talk…’ Then, having identified and isolated the fear inducing possibilities in the situation, tell her what you are going to do. If it is highly likely that the dog will knock her down, you could tell her that you will hold her safely out of the way until the animal settles down and that you will keep a careful eye on him so that he does not get out of hand. This way you will have shown her that you care about and understand her feelings, that you are open to a reasonable expression of her inner thoughts and that you are powerful enough to be able to do something about it. She in turn will not have been humiliated because she has shown fear, her ego will be intact and it will be easier for her to face her problem without developing all sorts of other problems as a result of not being able to handle the original one.
She may not become confident overnight, but she will have learnt that the world is not an entirely illogical place where things happen without reason or sense, and that there are ways of coping with difficulties.
Another fear that is deeply rooted in most children is that of being abandoned. To what extent this fear develops depends largely on how she has been cared for from the first day of life – it is the accumulated effect of many incidents and expressed and implied attitudes. A great number of people grow up never having resolved their fear of being abandoned or alone. It can make them excessively possessive, demanding and lacking in emotional self-sufficiency. Don’t think you will teach your child to fend for herself’ or be self-reliant by pushing her away.
It will have just the opposite effect. She will develop emotional stability only if you give her emotional security and reason to trust. In infancy you can foster this by responding to your child’s needs to the best of your ability in the way outlined in the previous chapters. Later on you will have to reinforce it by sticking to your word. If you have said you will be going out and have promised to be back for lunch, be there, or else telephone home at that time so that you can talk to her even if she is under two. Do not appear and disappear unaccountably from her life. Take her with you or say when you will be back. You will have to use something other than a clock to indicate the time you expect to return. Say something like before you have your sleep’, or after lunch. . Separations for more than a few hours almost inevitably cause some distress before the age of three. Your child may appear to have forgotten you or may reject you when you come back. Unless she has a basically unstable, insecure home life, no permanent damage should be done, but if possible it is better not to leave your child before the age of three or four when she can understand that you are going to come back.
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