Making Room for Fear
One of my own children has developed a fear of crutches. It turns out that even though we live in a bustling metropolis where my children commute to school on buses and subways everyday, encountering all kinds of unusual lifestyles and ways of being, we rarely see people using crutches.
After I learned of her fear, I noticed that one of her favorite books at the moment has a picture of a man using crutches, Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, and I pointed this out to her. Her familiarity with the drawing did not assuage her fear.
My daughter has always shown an interest in human anatomy and doctors, so I tried to explain that crutches are tools to heal (much like two of her favorite things: Band-Aids and Neosporin), but she didn’t care.
Finally, I relented. It occurred to me that having a phobia (or even many phobias) is completely human. She fully owned her fear of crutches, and why shouldn’t she be allowed to have it? What did I gain from trying to take it away from her? And what harm did it do for her to be frightened of something she rarely encountered?
Recently I visited a progressive and inspiring elementary school in Brooklyn. While I was touring the building, I noticed a display called Our Wall of Phobias. Children were asked to name something that scared them, to draw a picture of their fear, and to write a couple of sentences about their phobia.
How wonderful to talk about fear, to let it be, and to be honest about what frightens us.