Lori’s daughter was scared of costumed characters. I’m not fond of heights or water. Halloween costumes, TV characters, new experiences, the unknown. Any or all of these can scare a child. Being scared or having fears does not magically disappear as children grow into their teen years. And as adults we still have our share of fears.
However, children think differently from adults. Preschoolers and younger little ones can’t separate fantasy from the real world. School-agers can distinguish between fantasy and reality but may have trouble interpreting more subtle messages. Adults “get” the difference but that doesn’t always help.
So what to do – how do we help our children (and maybe each other) handle fears. Well to begin with, our fears depend on past experiences, imagination, and our general level of anxiety.
Don’t make fun of your child’s fears and try not to give lectures. Telling me there’s no reason to be scared of heights doesn’t make me feel any better. I still don’t like them. Accept fears as valid. Be supportive of your child with a matter-of-fact attitude and reassuring words. As a child gets older she will have a better understanding of cause and effect, reality and fantasy. And she is likely to have more experience with whatever is causing the fear. For example I’ve had many years of coming across heights and don’t get nearly as anxious.
Help your child learn some coping skills. In my case, I know to take deep breaths when I get into situations involving heights. Sometimes I can avoid the issue altogether. That’s an ok way to cope. So is picturing myself confidently crossing a tall bridge. Forcing your child into whatever scares him is probably not a good idea. That may just make things worse.
Comfort and common sense are two tools to put to use when dealing with fears – for children of all ages and adults too!
I thought a lot about Grover the last week or two. Thinking about the fact that he and his pals on Sesame Street really are technically ‘monsters’. Puppets yes, but ‘monster’ puppets all the same. As a preschool teacher many years ago I recall vividly the day of our fire station field trip. The firefighter led the children through the station & stopped in front of the truck then slowly piece by piece put on his fireproof pants, coat, gloves …. And then the hat/mask…… several children yelled MONSTER!!!!!! And began to cry. I was horrified. Both because I had traumatized the children and because the poor firefighter didn’t know what to do. Young children (toddlers/preschoolers/even through early elementary ages at times) have a difficult time distinguishing between fantasy and reality. As soon as the fire fighter put on the mask the human-ness was gone and the children’s brains thought monster. As adults we ‘know’ that the real human is still under the costume and the costume is creating a fantasy type character. Company/sports mascots, life size puppets, clowns and even Halloween costumes can fall into that fantasy category. My daughter was one of those children that was very scared of the costumed characters. We never went to an Barney Live or a Disney on Ice because the characters were roaming the halls mingling with guests. Even at 11 she still says “I’m not so scared of them but I really don’t like them mom”. Have your children been scared of characters or clowns? What were some ways that you helped them through their fears?
Dare I confess I remember the day our family got its first TV – black and white and big enough to take up a whole corner of the living room. We watched sitcoms, variety shows, westerns, and baseball games. Some of that programming would now probably be deemed politically incorrect and inappropriate for children to view.
That said, two practices are still relevant today. We watched as a family (one parent always in the room or nearby) and none of us kids had TVs in our bedrooms. TV viewing was a family affair, not an individual pursuit.
Today is a different time but parents still get to make the choice of how television is used in their homes. I listen to parents talk about how there isn’t anything to watch on TV even though we have hundreds of channels. They also complain about how much TV their kids are watching or what they are watching.
So Mom and Dad – time to put TV guidelines into place for your family. Sit down with your kids and together decide how TV will be used and when it will be watched. Maybe you don’t need a TV patrol in your home. But you do need discussions to arrive at a comfortable plan that fits your family’s values.
I might also add that your kids are watching you watch TV. They see how you use it for leisure, education, or background noise. They notice how much you watch and its importance in your life. Are you modeling what you want your kids to do also?
The University of Michigan Health Systems has some excellent information about television and children. Check it out at: http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/tv.htm
While you’re at the site be sure to also read A Guide to Managing Television: Tips for Your Family. http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/managetv.htm
Which tip do you want to try with your family?
I am a product of Sesame Street. Yep, I counted with the Count and ate cookies with Cookie. And deep down I’m probably still in enamored with loveable furry ‘ole Grover!
According to this month’s podcast there are 34 years of research that shows I very likely went to kindergarten having ‘learned’ from Sesame Street! Knowing that tv truly is ‘teaching’ our children can be both exciting and frightening at the same time. This month’s podcast addresses how we can sift through what our children should and shouldn’t watch on television.
As I think about what my children might be learning from tv, I think most about all of the different channels available. I only had three options. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of the different programming options available. My girls and I enjoy several of the nature and real life types of shows on various channels, but have also watched the cartoon-y children’s programs. We like the options!
Do I limit what they watch – yes I try my best. Are there times that they may be watching something less than stellar in my opinion? Absolutely. As I was listening to the podcast I appreciated the recognition that different channels may have both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ programming. That one channel may not be all ‘bad’ or all ‘good’. The bottom line was that I needed to pay attention to the different programs, watch them for myself and then determine whether it would be something I should let my girls watch.
What types of characteristics do you look at when you determine whether or not your children should watch something?
Parents need to know what their kids are watching on television and steer them toward the “good stuff.” Learn how to determine what the good stuff is — listen to this month’s Science of Parenting podcast.
ISU Extension materials
From the Science of Parenting Blog
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