Overcoming your fears for the sake of your children is easier said than done says Geraldine Walsh
When you hear a shriek from the sitting room you expect some damage to either your furniture or your kid.
You don’t expect a tear-stained, panicked child running away from a spider half the size of a 1c coin. Smaller even. Those money spiders have a lot to answer for when a little one sees a tiny eight-legged friend in the corner of their eye crawling through their fringe.
I’ve often thought that I’d prefer a spider-panicked child over a mighty bruise protruding from the forehead but fears, it seems, are just as bad as bruises. They’re possibly worse,
because they last longer and are sometimes impossible to get rid of. In our house, the shrill of a frightened little one started earlier than I would have imagined.
Young children always seem so interested in the world around them and slow to develop fears as their fascination outweighs any distress. Why then, at the age of four, has our daughter developed a fear of spiders, flies and creepy crawlies when just months before she would be down on the ground chatting to these creatures?
It would seem that as she gets older, she’s picking up on our behaviour. Her Dad has had an innate fear of spiders since a young age and I’ve been known to run when a moth flies towards me. While his arachnophobia has been quite strong and the anxiety he feels openly displayed, he has tried to hide his fears from her. Despite this, it would appear that she has picked up on his anxiety.
Hilda Burke, psychotherapist, life coach and couples counsellor, says: “Children learn by emulating their parents. For at least the first four to five years of our lives, our primary caregivers have, by far, the largest role in shaping us. We are at our most ‘sponge-like’ and open during these years and what we observe and see around us has a powerful force in our development as adults.” Hiding our fears from our children is not all that possible considering, while most fears are irrational, it’s not entirely easy to control the anxiety we feel. When you have a deeply embedded fear which you have lived with for such a long time, overcoming it for the sake of your children is easier said than done.
Although, this fear is not restricted to spiders. Many who suffer arachnophobia also having a fear of scorpions.
Odontophobia is the fear of the dentist or of receiving any form of dental treatment. It is said to develop primarily from a bad experience.
Acrophobia, the fear of heights ranging from standing on a chair to the top floor of a tall building, is often associated with a fear of falling.
Cynophobia is a fear of dogs which is a difficult one to overcome as dogs are often around. But also, for that reason, a necessary one to tackle. Sometimes related to a bad or negative experience, this fear often starts in early childhood.
Trypanophobia is the fear of needles or injections which can lead to serious medical issues if the sufferer refuses or avoids medical treatment as a result.
As a parent, we have a responsibility to our children to help them avoid developing our fears. So, how do we do that? Burke says: “If our parents have phobias or fears they haven’t addressed, we are very likely to assimilate those. Ironically, the more hidden and repressed these are the more the children will pick up on them.
“Consider the mother who never speaks about her fear of elevators, but will always choose to walk any amount of stairs to her destination, children in tow. Her children will likely pick up that lifts are to be avoided at all costs.
“Contrast that with a mother who acknowledges her fear of lifts and discusses it openly with her kids – explaining why it’s something she has an irrational fear of but it’s also something she’d like to work on and change.”
AT FOUR years old, our daughter’s world is getting bigger. As it gets bigger, it gets scarier.
She looks to us to try and understand her environment which she slowly begins to realise she has no control over. And so she watches us to see how she should manage this world. Honing in on our reactions and seeing how we behave is one way she learns.
We lead by example and it makes sense that she would do as we do since we constantly advise, educate and instruct her. But the phrase “Do as I say, not as I do” springs to mind when it comes to phobias.
Burke tells us: “It’s not having a phobia or irrational fear that’s the issue, but what one does about it. Do we try to suppress it, ignore it or do we engage with it, try to understand it more so that we’re managing it rather than it managing us.
It should be important for any parent to do that for themselves, for their own wellbeing, but of course, doing so will almost certainly have a trickle-down benefit on their children, lessening the chances that they will have the same issue.”