Fear of phobias

How do we avoid passing on our own irrational (but real!) fears on to our kids?

“Did it sting you? Where did it sting you?”

No, I wasn’t stung, but I can’t blame my elementary school teacher for thinking so. I was shaking and sobbing. Someone at recess had told me there was a bee on me.

If you are a kid who is afraid of bees, the advice adults give you is to “hold still”. If you hold still, it won’t sting you. What they don’t tell you is that A) bees are perfectly happy to crawl around on a statuesque sticky child and B) you can’t really tell when the bee is gone, so everything feels like a bee. As each second passed, waiting for the pain of a sting that would never come, my panic grew.

I’d been stung before, and it wasn’t the end of the world, but the anxiety of the sting was way worse. I would avoid bee situations in my life. My friends had a great hill for a slip ‘n’ slide, but the hill was covered in clover, so I didn’t go. If a bee (or, God forbid, a wasp) was in the house, I would hide in a different room on a different floor. I would choose clothing based on what colors were more likely to attract bees. Even as late as high school, I wouldn’t eat lunch outside in the early Spring because a bee might like my Cheetos. I showed so much fear that people assumed I was deathly allergic.

Don’t get me started on balloons either. They could pop at any time. If they have helium in them, they could fly away and that would be sad. Is the family about to watch a delightful French short film about a red balloon? Guess who would be traumatized by slingshots?

When I had kids, I worried about passing my phobias on to them. My kids are going to have their own quirks and anxieties, and they don’t need mine piled on top. Balloons were tackled first. Before kids, you largely live in a balloonless world. After kids, you can’t go to the bank without some well-meaning person handing your kid a balloon. They don’t realize that most bank patrons arrive by car and will take said car to their next destination. Sure, let’s give a floating object that can potentially explode at any time to an infant.

So how did I get over balloons? I faked it. I kept the anxiety inside. If the kid used the balloon as a chair, I didn’t flip out or leave the room. I just ignored it. When it was time for the balloon to be done, I’d playfully ask “Want to help me pop it?” After faking it for long enough, the fear went away. I still don’t always care for having a floating piece of latex getting in the way or having to carry it around the street festival, but I don’t have any anxiety about it.

Similarly with bees, I faked bee-bravery around my kids. I had to show them that not only was I not afraid of bees, but that bees were no big deal. If a bee is in my house now, hiding won’t get rid of the bee; it has to be dealt with.1 But, I don’t make a big deal out of it. If I’m out in the back yard with the girls, and bees are doing what bees do, I’ll call the girls over and have them get close to watch. I’m honest with them that getting stung hurts, but not for long. And bees probably won’t sting you because they don’t want to be dead.

Over time, the anxiety just faded. I have zero balloon or bee fear today. I can picnic at a carnival without curling into the fetal position. I reference this YouTube clip whenever the opportunity presents itself. Keeping my phobias away from my kids was the first time I had a good reason to confront my phobias head-on. I did it, and it worked.

I’m still allowed to childishly hate tomatoes though.

Photo by: R.H.Sumon™

  1. Trespassing in my house as an insect with a stinger is a capital offense. Most are sentenced to execution by magazine. 
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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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