Monday, August 7, 2017

Parenthood: Week 216 – Fear Itself

While Ollie’s little body shuttered, he squeeze me around the neck tightly as I held him, I reminded him that the life-size dinosaur animatronic robots were just pretend. He repeated to himself, “this is just pretend” as I carried him through the Jurassic World exhibit at the Field Museum.

Ollie was awestruck by the dinosaurs, but he also expressed a lot of fear. The darkness of the first couple rooms made him come him walk close to me and ask me to hold him. I carried him through the different rooms, through the exhibit and felt him cling to me with each roar and sudden movement of these big mechanical creatures.

Part of me wanted to get him out of there, and relieve him from feeling of fear, but when I asked him if he wanted to leave, he shook his head no. Ollie chose to be brave, so I let him lean into the fear and hang on to me for comfort.

My wife, Diana assured me afterwards that this exhibit wasn’t too scary for Ollie, but I was still worried that we had pushed him too far. I was reassured of this fact when the next day, Ollie asked to go back to the exhibit. I asked him about being scared, and he said that while he was scared it was okay, because it was pretend and he had fun.

We have been very conscious and deliberate about helping Ollie embrace all of his emotions. The lesson from Inside Out, that emotions like fear ad sadness, often avoided and considered “bad” emotions are just as important as joy. However this is a lesson that me as an adult have yet to fully learn. My instincts when Ollie is sad are just try to make him be happy as soon as possible or when he’s fearful to make this emotion go away. Instead, I force myself to hold back and help him articulate what he feels and experience them as part of his whole wonderful emotional self.

Teaching joy is one of the first things we do as parents from early smiles and giggles. There are parents who literally throw their kids in the deep end to teach them how to overcome fear, but I’m not that kind of parent. All of the times that we have brought fear to Ollie, it’s been inadvertent. Ollie has been scared when watching in movie theaters and in some museum exhibits, but he’s always worked through these moments and reflected that he wanted to have these experiences again.

Helping kids learn about fear is hard, because while you can’t make a kid too happy, you can bring too much fear to a kid. Emotional scars are real and children are far less resilient than pop culture psychology would like us to believe. I’m not sure how best to help him explore fear, I just know that I’d rather be overly careful in exploring this emotion than regretful.

In being afraid, Ollie comes to know that he can find comfort in others, that the way he feels about experiences can change and that as we love him regardless of what he feels, he will learn to love himself.

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