We have a small green park just next to our house. Occasionally, we find snakes sleeping in between the green bushes or slithering between the branches. Our children play in the space every day and are perfectly ok to say, “Hello!” to a snake once in a while. They understand that if they come across a snake they should move out of its way silently and quickly. They should come home and wait for a few hours before returning to the park. They should report the snake to an adult so we can check and call the snake catchers. Under no circumstances, should they try to harm the snake or physically come close to it. Knowledge about handling snakes enables them enjoy the park and still stay safe. It removes the fear of snakes and teaches them to respect the creature.
As a mother, I would rather have my children operate out of knowledge and skill than out of fear. Many parents don’t talk about simple day to day things like darkness, death, snakes, sex, drugs and abuse with their children thinking that children are too young to understand this. Parents think that such topics can make children feel scared or make them more curious about these topics. Parents want to avoid these conversations and would rather brush away these topics than have open dialogue and address the fear/curiosity head on.
My experience states that it is the lack of knowledge that is scarier than the knowledge itself. It is the lacks of knowledge that fuels curiosity than the excess of it. Like the knowledge of how to deal with snakes will reduce the fear of encountering snakes, understanding about any topic will reduce the fear and make us better prepared to deal with it. For example, if we understood death, would we be scared of it? It is the fear of not knowing what happens after death that makes us feel scared about it. When our children talk about Death, we pass on our fear to them and hush them. We tell them that it is not good to talk about such things. When death is a reality that everyone has to face without fail, wouldn’t it be better to understand it and prepare for it? When drugs and abuse are so rampant in the world today, wouldn’t it be better for us to understand these social phenomenon and have open conversations about it with our children? Even in today’s times, most parents shy away from discussing these topics. We simply tell children that they are too young to know about it. I think the children are not too young. It is, we, the parents who are simply not prepared to handle these conversations in an open factual manner. It is, us, who are lazy to do our research, get our facts right and build the patience to answer questions. It is just easier to push these topics off, for a few years. It is easier to blame the world for all the bad that exists today. It is easier to play victim than make an effort to take ownership of the situation.
When a child tells me that they are scared of the dark, I simply encourage them to talk about it. Unless a child has been actually harmed in some way in the dark (which is even more important to uncover), in all probability, the child is scared of the dark because he/she doesn’t understand darkness. Because no one has talked to them about darkness, ghosts, thunder storms or things that seem scary in the dark. The easiest way to solve the problem is to talk about darkness/ghosts or whatever is scaring them. It doesn’t matter if you believe in life after death or not. It doesn’t matter if you believe in ghosts. It doesn’t matter which religion you belong to. You just have to share what you think is true. In case, you do not know what is true, then it is an excellent time for you to find out your version of the truth. It is OK to say, “I don’t know the answer right now! Let me come back to you soon”. But it is definitely not OK to say things like, “All children are scared of the dark. You will be fine when you grow up!”
Bottom-line, do not assume that it is OK to operate out of fear. It is not OK to keep your girls inside the house in long skirts. It is not OK to teach our children it is a bad world out there. As parents, it is our responsibility to talk openly about both the good and the bad with both our girls and our boys. We cannot stop them from going to parties. But we can definitely educate them on how to keep their drinks safe. We can definitely equip them with self defense tips and techniques. We can definitely ensure communication channels are open for both the good and the bad.
I believe, it is not a bad world, out there. Lets not make our children live out fear. It is a beautiful world. The only one we have, yet. Let’s make our children love it and work towards making it more beautiful.