My 8-y-old daughter has recently attended a so-called safety training in school, the kind where kids are supposed to learn to say no to unwanted attention, and to identify bullies and manipulative strategies and such. Coach tried to make it clear to them that if someone double-dog dares you into doing something you don’t want to do, there’s a large chance they’re really afraid to do it themselves. Which of course got me to remember Marty McFly… NOBODY CALLS ME CHICKEN … but also got us talking about fear in general. About how it’s the mark of the brave to admit your fears, about Miraculix’ wise words at the end of Asterix and the Normans – I don’t know the exact quote, as I’ve only read it in German, but it’s something along the lines of how true bravery lies in conquering your fears – and about the simple fact that everybody is afraid of something.
My daughter wasn’t ready to believe the latter without evidence. Surely there’s nothing that would scare her big brother? So she devised a game. Everybody got a pen and paper, and had to draw something he or she was afraid of, and then the drawings would get passed around and everybody had to put their name with a plus or a minus, depending on whether or not it was something they, too, were afraid of.
I hadn’t considered how difficult a game it might turn out to be. I do try my best to be as open and honest as possible with the kids, but there’s open and honest, and then there’s causing trauma. Do I tell them that I’m terrified to the point of paralysis by the mere thought that something might happen to them?
Do I admit my rather ridiculous fear that there are werevolves stalking me in the corridor when I wake up at night and have to go to the bathroom? Yes, I know that werewolves aren’t real, thank you very much? Judging from how neither of my kids woke up screaming in the past nights, I can still only hope I got it right.
Needless to say, the game was a revelation. We found quite a few things we were jointly scared of, and others only one or two of us found frightening. We talked about how some fears are simple and others complex, how some are obvious and others abstract, how not all of them are rational, and how being afraid is entirely natural and nothing to be ridiculed, even as it is perfectly okay to laugh about your silly fears together. I whole-heartedly recommend the exercise.