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Children are Not Born Fearful

Children don't seem to be born fearful. Oh, there are a few things they seem to fear instinctively – loud noises and loss of support – though there are many babies who love to be tossed into the air and caught, or otherwise tumbled about. It looks very much as if children catch most of their fears from their elders.

So says John Holt – the leading educational and social critic.

He goes on to say…

Most of the fear that children catch is of a more subtle kind. They catch it bit by bit, in very small doses.

This makes me want to look back at Pari's growing up days – from infancy till now and reflect on how and where I may have contributed to some of her fears and how I may have helped alleviate others. As a 5.5 year old – while she is astonishingly fear less in many aspects; she's also incredibly fearful of certain things – critters/dogs/darkness.

Fear of critters and cockroaches run in my family. Nothing else gives me a more creepy feeling than the sight of a cockroach. Oh, and a lizard. I have been like this since childhood. So, is my mom. And, now, Pari. But of-course. Shie! She has seen us screaming hysterically at the mere sight of this innocuous little creature to not believe that it must be a huge threat and danger to her.

I feel ashamed to admit another fear of mine – of dogs. While I admire and love dogs and believe that they are the most un-demanding and selfless friends of humans, I have never figured out what causes me to fear them like I do. I won't go near them, let alone touch them. Pari has picked up this phobia too. And, I won't fault you if you turn around and say – it's all thanks to me – the mommy. 

Taking the sting out of our fear

Last year, when I came upon a dog show during a trip to my in-laws place, I decided to attend the show along with Pari, my hubby and his younger brother who's a ardent dog-lover and a walking-talking encyclopedia about dogs, their breed etc. I thought it will be a good opportunity to appease our fears by facing them in a more favourable setting.

Pari was hesitant initially but when I said we would get to click lots of pictures, she agreed. It turned out to be a nervous encounter. More so because the dogs (hundreds of them) were all out in the open, on a small ground, with no safety barrier whatsoever. We were at the mercy of the master's control over his pet. 

This experience emboldened us. I admit, I came out a little less fearful and lot more informed about the types of dogs, their behaviour, body language etc. Pari, who was perched high up in her Papa's arms all the time, was happy too. She, too, loves dogs after all – in spite of the inexplicable fear.

Coming into her own – as an individual

More recently in South Africa, I observed shifting changes in Pari's personality – in terms of interacting with people, taking initiative, reaching out to explore – even something that she's not sure of. 

She has always been slow to opening up in public. As a toddler and up to age 3, she was was almost fearful of strangers – not wanting to even look in their eye. It was a tough period for me. And stressful sometimes, when she would not want to play with kids her age in the park or mingle in birthday parties. 

It took a mix of gentle pushing and hand-holding; patience and loving encouragement and sometimes – I admit shamefully again – mamma's emotional melodrama – "If you play alone, you'll not make any friends and mamma will feel very sad." (the message is – do it for mama's sake) Not a tactic I recommend using, if you ask me today. 

But that 'phase' was just a matter of time. 

Before I would start taking to heart – people's mocking glares and hush-hush discussions about this "problem", she metamorphosed into a happy-go-lucky, friendly kid and immensely popular among her friends and teachers. Her first day of formal schooling was a breeze. 

That was the time I whacked myself on the head

And told myself to just let her be, trust her to grow up as a fine person and not ever want to 'train' her into anything. All I needed to do was be an inspiring example to her.

During our trip to South Africa recently, we met people from varied cultures and countries who spoke English in a variety of accent. While we would talk openly, discuss and exchange information about our own culture and part ways with email ids etc, we decided, we will not 'ask' Pari deliberately and directly to interact or talk or greet. We trusted and respected her enough now to believe that she will participate in conversation where and when she felt, be courteous, return compliments and such.

And this is exactly what she would do. My chest swelled with love and pride when one elderly gentleman, in the guest house that we stayed, remarked – "She's the friendliest little girl I've ever seen".

I remember, one late evening, after an evening game-viewing (safari) in Elephant Plains, all the guests were seated around a bonfire in an open-air setting. There was chill in the air. The buffet was set some distance away. The resort staff were kind enough to prepare pure vegetarian food for our family of three while the rest of the menu was all non-vegetarian. When taking food on my plate, I told them how much I appreciated this and that the food looks yummy.

When we sat down to eat, Pari takes a few bites and then she stands up. She tells me she wants to go over to the buffet table and tell the chefs she loved the food. "They will be so happy to know". 

But, the surprise for me was not this. The surprise was that she did not feel inhibited to walk all the way in front of so many people to convey her feelings in words that she best knew. I was eyeing her from a distance and saw her engage in a pretty good conversation with the chef and the other people at the buffet table.

That moment – I saw her fear vanish completely in thin air. It's a wonderful feeling seeing your child be his own self, his own persona and not a mere reflection of you. 

The adult urge to control

Sadly, often, we try to mould them, their behaviour , their reactions, their natural self – to suit our own adult expectations and objectives. 

And then, if they are reflecting our own fears or faults, we go all over again – trying to reshape and control.

Many more events during this South Africa trip led me to think more and more about how children learn and become.

At the Cango Ostrich ranch, Pari was initially apprehensive when the guide told her she could hug the ostrich, kiss him or even ride him. But after a while, she started getting comfortable – in spite of their size and even though they come across a tad aggressive – these birds! The fact is that they are very friendly and love-able, and will attack only when they feel their young ones or eggs are in peril. 

Her  touch became a hug; the hug became a long drawn caress. And finally, she even sat on it – all without being told that it's okay to do so; that there's nothing to fear. She learned by cautious 'wait and watch' attitude that it was okay to go close to those gorgeous Ostriches or touch them and love them.

A very contradictory experience happened with her effort to interact with the Macaws. She saw me seat them on my fingers and arms and head and wanted to do so herself, albeit with trepidation in her heart. 

The birds themselves are sometimes fearful of kids. Their fear translated in much flapping of wings and aggressive behaviour which in turn psyched Pari out. Much as she yearned to take them on her palm, they refused to come near her. That led to angst, self-doubt, streams of tears and conclusion that those birds are dangerous and may harm her mamma too. No matter how much I tried that she's able to lift a bird on her arm – the mutual fear – between the two parties never let them befriend each other.

In Sudvala caves, one more surprise awaited us. She refused to stick around with us as the guide led the whole group into the dark caves, with a mere torch in his hand. She walked ahead of us, behind us but never 'with' us. I saw first-hand – a child's urge to be 'independent'. That 'I'm-a-grown-up' feeling was sweeping all over this kid so much so that even when it was pitch dark (this used to be another fear) once in a while, she would still hold her ground; and not start looking for us. 

Some more opportunities presented themselves before us in the form of paragliding, bungee jumping – she wanted to do them all. Infact, she went ahead and did paragliding. We let her do since it was safe to go with the coach. But, not bungee of course. 

John Holt cannot be debated on the words above. Children are born fearless. It's very likely that we elders rub off our fears, doubts and mistrust on to them.

While we must absolutely ensure their safety; it must not be at the cost of instilling a life-long fear and self-doubt leading to end of exploration. 

John Holt also says –

When a child is fearful of something, "a part of her curiosity about the world and her trust in it has been shut off. Who can tell when it will turn on again". 

What's YOUR experience been like – regarding your own fears and your child's fears? 

Have you ever felt that your child may have picked up a fear because of your own? Do you think you would like to alleviate those fears – the child's as well as yours?

As of me, besides cockroaches and lizards, as a teenager, I was fearful of what people would think if I did something and it did not turn out to be the best? It was never a good feeling though. I wanted to get rid of it. And, eventually, I did. Now, I can safely be my own self  – complete with the defects – without mulling over who's thinking what. 

Please share in your comments below and let's carry the discussion forward.

Sharing some posts that show us how children – if they are allowed to be – are the most courageous and curious souls!

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Melissa @ The Chocolate Muffin Tree September 21, 2011, 1:06 pm

    Great post! I really do try to be conscious of what I am fearful of and how it can translate to what my daughter is afraid of—-thanks for the reminder! Recently we visited caverns with my daughter and she was very open to it and saw it as an adventure. When I went as a child, I was terrified and have no idea where the fear came from because my parents did not show any fear. I felt a little fear as I entered the caverns as an adult, but knew I needed to dissolve it because I didn’t want my daughter to be afraid. I agree that children are fearless and we definitely show them what to fear. Your daughter is fortunate to have had some wonderful experiences this summer! Thanks for sharing my post!

    • Rashmie Jaaju September 22, 2011, 4:20 am

      Hi Melissa,
      Thank you for sharing your views. It was thoughtful of you to not display your fear in the caverns because, yes, it may likely be picked up by your little girl.

      About your own fear of the caverns as a girl, I think sometimes it may be due to a previous experience, or something intangible that stayed on mind.

      But, yes, often it’s we parents and adults that show them what to fear. It may also happen due to our intention of keeping them safe and asking them to be cautious.

      Your daughter’s ‘worm exploration’ activity was so amazing, I had to share it. :)

  • Melissa @ The Chocolate Muffin Tree September 21, 2011, 2:42 pm
    • Rashmie Jaaju September 22, 2011, 4:21 am

      Thank you for sharing this. I loved seeing the pictures!

  • Ashu September 21, 2011, 4:16 pm

    Rashmie…very nice post.Glad to see Pari coming out of her comfort zone and interacting independently with people…Well today only I have shared this experience of mine with Pt friends too…My daughter is becoming more of independent and interacting with new people with ease and comfort,Infact her own initiative to join activity class which long back she refused to do…I m happy to see her overcoming her own created fears.

    I will admit I m scared of heights,whenever go to hill station feel phobic of the same…although tried rappelling …I think still need to overcome that.
    Ashu

    • Rashmie Jaaju September 22, 2011, 4:24 am

      Ashu,
      Thanks for stopping by and discussing about your sweet Khwaish. Yeah, through your blog post and pics, I have seen her blossom into a unique individual. I love her bond with her pet tortoise!

      I hope you are able to soothe your fear of heights. And, may you and your daughter attain the ‘height’ of joy and peace doing your artsy stuff… :)

  • Aparna September 22, 2011, 3:24 am

    Lovely post, rashmie. This ‘fear’ is something that I deal with everyday with my 6 yo. Like you say, it is hard to kick the habit of “training” them or using emotional blackmail in order to get our kids to conform to our ideas of what they shd be like. Over the years I have seen my son transform from an intensely shy toddler to a more confident kid and I now have the courage to believe in my heart that he will turn out just fine and that he will continue to surprise and excite me everyday :) This experience has also helped me a lot on dealing with my younger daughter’s unique personality and behaviour.
    Good going, Pari! She is blossoming!!! You are doing a truly wonderful job with her, Rashmie :))

  • Rashmie Jaaju September 22, 2011, 4:42 am

    Aparna,
    Thank you, dear, for stopping by to share your experience. Isn’t it heartwarming to see those little ones develop their own unique persona, heart and soul?!

    So wonderful to know your son come out of his shell to explore and enjoy as his heart says.
    He will indeed grow up to a wonderful, unique person and excite and surprise you every day, dear mommy. :)

    I feel that these little souls go through two births – one in their mother’s womb where everything is calm, serene, secure – with the most subtle and yet intent connection with the only being from the outside world (earth) – their mother.

    The other birth they get is – when they come out of that serenity, into a world so alien. – all light, sound, noise, visuals – big and giant!

    Considering this mammoth and radical shift in their ‘habitat’ in a span of just 9 months, I think it’s only fair that we give them time to adjust, soak, and get to know the world around them. But, we adults know no patience when it comes to our child’s learning and growth. I want to take this opportunity to remind myself again that I need to give space and time to my little one. I need to keep a check on my expectations. I definitely don’t want to put the pressure of my dream for her, on her.

    Thank you for taking the discussion forward, Aparna :) It’s always good to see you here.

  • Super Sarah September 22, 2011, 4:57 am

    Very interesting post and so true, children are incredible creatures and its quite remarkable watching them grow and develop. Amy has always been a confident and carefree child who assesses situations before including herself. I have to remember that she watches me closely for my reaction to things, like last night the key got stuck in our front door and I was struggling to open it and went quiet for a few minutes while I fiddled with it, all of a sudden I heard quiet sobs from behind me, Amy was frightened because she didn’t know what was going on, all I had to do was reassure her it was fine and we would get into the house either threw the back door or when the key finally turned and then she was fine!

    • Rashmie Jaaju September 22, 2011, 5:59 pm

      Sarah,
      You are so right – these young children – they watch us closely for our reactions and expressions. And, they catch the subtlest of vibes and body language.
      Thank you for sharing your own experience and thoughts here.

  • JDaniel4's Mom September 22, 2011, 1:29 pm

    I really don’t like water in my eyes. It makes swimming pools and the beach not my favorite place to be. JDaniel loves water. I don’t want to pass my fear on to him.

    • Rashmie Jaaju September 22, 2011, 6:02 pm

      @JDaniel4’s Mom – Ah…..I too feel that about swimming pool water in my eyes – and hence can never go into it without wearing the glasses. Good that you don’t display your discomfort before your kiddo.

  • Srishti September 22, 2011, 4:58 pm

    I know , if we talk in person, you will not be able to share so much about Pari’s development. Back of your mind, you would feel that I should not get over whelmed with all these details but believe me, I am so happy to read all this. Before Sarah was born, I loved Pari as my niece but after Sarah’s birth, I get those motherly vibes when I see her since she is the first child whom I have been very close since she was born.
    I really loved the post. This gives me lot of fruit for thought…related to Sarah’s upbringing. I have started reading the book you gifted and I can relate to what you mentioned about those temptations to train them to become something :)

    • Rashmie Jaaju September 22, 2011, 6:10 pm

      Dear Srishti,
      Yeah, these reflections happen only during quiet moments and as you know yourself – deep in mommy’s head! For me, it all comes out when I sit down to write….. :))
      So glad you were able to appreciate and could understand where I came from because you have seen Pari growing up from day one. :)
      I am touched when you say you feel those motherly instincts for Pari ever since Sarah is born.
      So, you will understand exactly how I feel for Sarah. When I see her, a part of my heart reaches out like a mother’s… She’s such a doll!
      That book – yeah, it’s very insightful. Finish it soon so we can exchange notes!

  • Angelique Felix September 24, 2011, 9:00 pm

    Beautiful post dear Rashmie, I believe that fear is the worst consultant around on planet earth. And the biggest possibility for us is to look it in the eyes. Very difficult but possible. I think that this is a great post for the World Animal Day bloghop…starting in a few hours!!
    Lovely greetings, angelique

  • Aimee September 26, 2011, 5:48 pm

    I def. passed on my fear of bees ;-( I try so hard and forget they are clean slate! Thank you for linking up to The Sunday Showcase!

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  • Natalie September 29, 2011, 9:48 pm

    Great post. I don’t have a lot of everyday fears except dislike for spiders. Anna, however, is really afraid of skeletons due to an untimely trip to a local Egyptian museum. They had an unwrapped mommy, and it completely freaked her out. I remember having similar fears of everything related to death at her age too, but they faded now when I am older. Now I am mostly just worry instead of being afraid :)

    • Rashmie Jaaju October 5, 2011, 6:02 pm

      Natalie,
      I confess, spiders are creepy! Oh my! An unwrapped mommy sounds like straight out of a horror movie!
      Poor kid, no wonder she freaked out…
      I shared a smile over what you said about “no fear but mostly worry”. haha! True. That’s what the adult life seems to be constantly coping with..! Sigh…

  • Esther October 8, 2011, 9:25 pm

    Great post. I’m glad Pari learned to face some of her fears, or work through them. My oldest is a soft child and quite fearful of some things, even while I tried not to carry my fears over to him, by keeping calm in situations. But I see that at 7 years he is also starting to face them as he sees that nothing fearful happens in that situation.

    I also believe that as they get to know the world better and as their perception of the world change with maturity, they can work through fears and conquer them.

    Esther
    Esther recently posted..Blogging and Sharing – or not?

  • critters and crayons October 9, 2011, 6:15 pm

    I loved this! The photos are beautiful and the content even more- I may have given my kids the opposite affliction- not being scared enough of things like snakes and critters. I love them- and we live in an area full of rattlers. I hate to see them killed in people’s yards, but I certainly understand why they are! When I saw the title of your post, I inferred a different type of meaning- one relating to discipline. I’ve been working very hard to be sure that I steer them to do the right things out of desire rather than fear so I think that is why my brain went to that meaning before I read the content. Either way, very thought-provoking post- Thanks!