Fear Itself

Warning: These links are NOT approved for all audiences.

The other day, Isaac wanted to play a game at school before class started.  A year or so ago, I taught him this game I saw on this really scary movie.  It’s a great, quick children’s game.  One person is “it” and stands facing a tree while every other player stands at a designated point behind him.  The person who is “it” knocks on the tree and says, “One, two, three knocking on the tree”.  While the person is facing the tree and speaking, the other players silently creep towards him.  When he finishes his chant, he turns around and everyone must freeze.  If the “knocker” sees anyone moving, they have to go back to the beginning.  The “knocker” then turns back to face the tree and knocks again.  Eventually the silent creepers will get close enough to tag the knocker and he will have to chase them and tag the person who tagged him first. It’s a really fun (and creepy) game.

So Isaac wanted all the kids to play 1, 2, 3 so he asked Michelle if she knew how to play.  She confidently told him she did.  But started up a conversation with another “classmate”, avoiding Isaac all together.  But this story is really just a pointless tangent.  I just wanted to include a link to our newest favorite ghost story.


I’ve been contemplating something lately.  Is it okay to let your children be afraid?  Is it okay to be afraid yourself?

Growing up, fear was not really an option.  It’s not that we weren’t allowed to be afraid or express our fear of something, but my parents did a good job of explaining away those fears.  My dad raised us on scary movies.  It was his impression that if a scary movie didn’t have blood or violence (or adult situations) it was fine for kids to watch.  So we grew up watching Alfred Hitchcock movies and the like.  As a kid, my favorite movie was Poltergeist.  I even remember watching IT on TV.  It was on TV so it was safe, right?  It scared the crap out of me but I loved it!

Until my older sister, Laura, started reenacting it with my stuffed clown doll.  We shared a room and had bunk beds.  I can just remember going to bed at night and looking for that dumb clown doll.  When it was missing, I knew I’d see it again soon.  I’d wait eyes peeled in suspense for when it would show up again.  Usually it would appear as if it was floating down from the top bunk, saying something awful like, “They all float up here, Emily!”

There was one movie in particular that I had to watch over and over until I was finally brave enough to finish it around the age of 12.  The Changeling is one of my dad’s favorite ghost stories.  It’s a great movie!  It’s very quotable.  At least every person in my extended family would know exactly how to say such simple words as “my father” and make a chill go up your spine.  And the music is excellent!  Now that I’ve taken my family members on a trip down memory lane, I’ll continue with my real thoughts.

I just remember the few times I was afraid, my dad sat me down and explained away my fears.  When I was afraid of a thunderstorm, he would tell me it’s just like God is bowling.  Isn’t that fun, to imagine that God is bowling up in Heaven?  He’d say, “you like rock music, don’t you?  It’s loud and always has good drums.  You’re not afraid of drums are you?  Don’t be afraid of thunder just because it’s loud.”  And he was right.  To this day, thunder is one of my favorite things to listen to.

I remember a very specific moment when we decided to go to Six Flags and test out the new Ninja ride.  I loved roller coasters as a kid but I had never been on a ride that had loops; that actually took me upside down.  So I was stoked to ride it.  I was so excited up until the point that we pulled into the parking lot.  I started crying.  I remember Dad saying that it was safe.  It had to be safe or they’d never put it in an amusement park.  There was nothing to worry about.  I’m sure he even explained the physics of what happens when the coaster goes through those loops.  I got my courage and rode the coaster.  I’m sure I had a headache afterwords because that is the worst ride in the park, but it was fun and I’m glad I did it.

I’ve always been proud to say that there really is nothing I’m afraid of.  Until I had kids.  Then the thought of losing a kid, or even screwing them up became my big fears.  So, will I screw up my kids if I refuse to let them be afraid of anything?  I feel like I turned out okay.  I’m not too hard of a person, am I?

My dad still has the same philosophy about scary movies.  One of Isaac’s first Halloweens, we came to DnA’s (Doug and Angie, a pet name the Kirkland kids use for our parents) to trick or treat.  While my mom filled my kids with sugar (apparently, that’s every grandmother’s civil duty), my dad introduced Isaac to Poltergeist.  I was talking with Kayleigh and Brian as they got dressed and ready for their evening when I realized what Isaac was watching.  My dad commenced to tell me that when you explain to a child what to expect in the next scary scene, it is no longer scary to them.  Here’s how the conversation went down.

Grandpa:  Hey Isaac, watch this:  This guy’s face is going to melt into the sink.  You’re going to love it!

The first week of school, Isaac was telling me what he liked to play at recess.  He told me that someone would be the bad guy and he’d chase everyone and then catch on fire and run around screaming.  I was so shocked!  Here I am thinking that these stupid school kids are corrupting my son.  Then my dad confessed that he was showing the boys his favorite car chase scene from Bullitt.  He forgot that at the end of the chase scene, the bad guys catch fire and are shown burning in their overturned car!  It was my kid that was corrupting the others!

I’ve always tried to protect my boys’ innocence.  Isaac and Asher both have struggled with fears in the past.  But I take those moments to either explain them away, or give them tools to calm their fears.  What do you think?  Should I just comfort them and hold them and tell them it will be okay?  Or should I tell them not to be afraid?


4 thoughts on “Fear Itself”

  1. Hey Em! For my two cents… I think it’s wonderful to let them experience fear with “explanation” as your dad did for you. There was a time as a kid that I had nightmares all the time… bad ones. Oddly enough… they stopped almost immediately when I became old enough that I was allowed to begin watching scary movies. In the 70’s/80’s, Saturday and late night tv were full of scary movies… a lot of the older ones that your dad would have found acceptable for you guys. Anyway… I loved feeling that thrill of fear when I was little… roller coasters, haunted houses, ghost stories… whatever… I liked it all. But, I had nightmares so at first my mom wouldn’t let me watch scary things on tv or be involved in anything scary if she could help it. I had a good imagination though… and would hear bits and pieces of things from friends… and of course God made our minds to be pretty much the most powerful things in the world, so I knew scary things were out there somewhere… and would imagine what might be in those tv shows and scary movies… or what might be outside… and in my mind I made it much more scary. After I begged and begged and begged and eventually wore her down, mom started letting me watch stuff. Once I began watching them… it wasn’t nearly as scary as the “unknown” part about it all. It’s kind of like the way that many scary books make horrible films… I think this is because your mind can interpret and imagine images and experiences far beyond what Hollywood can effectively put on screen. Once it’s on the screen… there’s always that element of “fake” involved. I also had the scary explained away as well… and the fun of movie-making and special effects lifted up instead. For instance, I watched the Exorcist on TV when I was 12, but had already been told about how effective pea soup was… and how they made a manican head that turned around… etc… so knowing that first, I instead appreciated the “art” of making things scary… that really aren’t at all. I knew what was coming… allowed myself to feel the thrill of the fear, but then reminded myself of how they were creating it all… and afterwards I watched an episode of “The Jeffersons,” because I’d also been told that we can be manipulated and set up for comedy just like we were for fear. So I let one group scare me, then allowed another to make me laugh right after… and all was good. I think starting out with the really old stuff… Dracula, The Wolfman, the Mummy… the old black and white stuff… it gave me even more of a foundation to recognize the fun and “fake” in it all. In the old films, the special effects look less real of course, so it’s easy to remember it’s not real. Once you get used to the movie making part, then you begin to simply be impressed with more sophisticated effects, rather than freaked by them.
    I first learned what endorphins and stuff like that were in jr high. Your kids are too little to truly grasp that… but once I learned and understood why some people enjoy that rush of fear and excitement… why it works chemically… it made me even less afraid of scary stuff because I understood all the more how and why my body was reacting.
    Anyway… I think your dad had the key… which is the explanation and the understanding of it all. It makes the fear manageable… and for the most part fun and interesting!
    These days I’m excited if a film can even make me flinch. I enjoy scary stuff still, but it’s just not truly scary anymore. Even roller coasters… I LOVE them… but it takes more and more to really allow me to feel an uncertainty or fear.
    Anyway… just remember that scary can also be FUN… and sort of a right of passage. Slasher stuff…torture stuff… I don’t go for that, but a good ghost story or thriller… something that’s not gratuitous but just a good ride… now that’s fun!
    All that to say: (a) I think it’s okay and (b) You’re dad had the best approach! He equipped you.

  2. Oh… and I forgot to say… The fact that you use a mime in the pic to represent all things scary for this post… is just HILARIOUS. Made me smile…

  3. Dude. Some of those links STILL freak me out! Dan wants to DVR some awful new zombie series on AMC, and I can’t even stand the promos for it. I used to be okay with horror/gore/scary stuff, but I can’t stomach it well now. Ugh!
    That clown doll scene is still scary!!!

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