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!
I need help sustaining this blog…
Dear blog readers – It’s been exactly eight years now that I’ve been writing on this blog! Yes, eight long years and hundreds of articles. From art, creativity and learning; to food, health, gardening, travel, sustainable and mindful living, natural birth. In our un-schooling life, as we go on introspecting, questioning and evolving, I’ve strived to share our stories and experiences with as much honesty, care and sincerity as possible.
I spend hours writing an article – and often write and rewrite many times before it rings true to me and sounds worthy of your time to read.
The most important thing for me is to keep this blogging endeavour authentic and true to my values. This blog has been my sacred space to express, share, feel empowered and contribute. Hence, I do not like to support businesses that don’t align with my values. So far, I’ve rarely taken sponsorship from brands and companies. I haven’t placed any ads on my blog, though there have been multiple offers.
Infact, I’d like to keep this blog ad free unless something truly meaningful comes across.
Yet, there’s a cost to running this blog. The basic cost of keeping the domain alive, and hosting all this content on. I spend roughly INR 10,000 (USD 173) just to keep this blog up and running. So, I need to cover this cost. Plus, it’d be nice to bring in some income for our family of four. And, this is where I request your support.
If you find my articles and stories useful or inspiring at some level, please help me sustain. Starting from 1 dollar or 100 rupees to whatever you can, do consider donating for the content I share; for my intention and the time and effort I put. Your support will go a long way in keeping this blog (of 8+ years) sparkling with stories for many more years to come. Thank you, dear ones. I’ll value what you’ll gift with love and kindness. :-)
International readers: Donate using PayPal
Readers in India: Donate here