I do not like when fear is used as a form of control on children. Real life is scary enough, so to fill our children’s heads with stories of boogie men and bad guys seems cruel and unnecessary. Yet, as parents there is this fine line that is hard to balance. We want to protect our children and keep them safe from the many dangers that exist, but we don’t want our children to grow-up believing that there is more bad than good in the world (at least I don’t).
I swore I would never use fear as a parenting tactic. I grew up in a time when children were taught to fear all strangers and to constantly look over their shoulders when walking down the street. I remember believing and/or fearing that I would be kidnapped or raped every time I walked anywhere alone. As a child and well into my teens I remember feeling perpetually scared of something. And even now as an adult I grip my keys and race to my car if I am walking alone after dark – regardless of the neighborhood.
I recognize that being fearful is part of my personality and I am not trying to place all the blame on my upbringing. I am the first to admit that I sleep with a night-light, I will not ride roller coasters, and if I ever “jump” out of an airplane please know I was pushed because I would never willingly make this choice.
I do not want my children to share my fears. Nor do I not want to lean on fear as my only way to parent my children. Yet, despite my best intentions I have caught myself using fear in my parenting. I cringe every time I catch myself, but truth be told I do not think it can be avoided completely. And sometimes desperation makes you rely on the only thing you know.
When my kids first hid from me in the middle of a store my heart started racing and I called out to them in a high-pitched shaky voice. In my head all my childhood “stranger danger” fears leaped to the surface and moments before losing it completely I heard the muffled laughs. I grabbed my children, hugged them and then looked them in the face and told them with the sternest voice I could muster to never do that again because a stranger might take them. Their eyes opened wide and I could see the seed planted. They didn’t say anything in that moment, but later on before bed the questions started.
“Why would someone take us? How do you know there are bad guys?”
I hated myself for planting that seed. For ruining their innocence. For using fear simply because I was fearful.
I did my best to answer their questions honestly. I explained that I was scared. That I thought they were lost. That there are people out there who do terrible things and my job is to keep them safe, but that they do not have to worry. I told them that there are more good people than bad, but that children have to be careful and stay close to their parents just in case.
I know I could have handled that situation better. I know I could have chosen better words, but this is the fine line I am talking about. The line I struggle with at times.
I will never tell my children, as I was once told by a distant relative who was babysitting me, that the boogie man will take them away if they misbehave. But, I have to teach them to be vigilant because there are real dangers out there. So, I struggle with what is right and I struggle because I do not like seeing those seeds of fear grow.
So what do you say to your children? Has your child ever opened the front door and stepped outside without asking? Has your child ever answered a knock at the door before you were even downstairs? Has your child ever run toward a strange dog? Has your child ever engaged in a conversation with a stranger? How about running away from you in a public place or across a street?
These are the situation when we as parents are tested. When we have to ask: Is it really a terrible thing if our instinct to protect our children is to teach fear? Is some fear healthy? How much is too much? Are you using fear in parenting and is it ever okay?
Please tell me what you think by leaving a comment below. I believe this is a conversation we should have as parents.
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