In the interest of full self-disclosure, let me start by saying that I don’t like being scared. I’m not a fan of horror films and haunted houses have never been my thing. But, as a parent there are times when I’m absolutely A-Okay seeing my child experience fear. To take it a step further, I understand that it’s sometimes my responsibility to be the one who scares my child. Not everyday, and not for my own twisted enjoyment, but to teach important lessons and ensure safety. It may sound crazy, but there are two very specific times when it’s perfectly fine—important even—to thoughtfully scare your child.
#1: If your child is rapidly approaching danger.
Every parent with a child who is mobile has undoubtedly experienced this. A toddler about to pull something heaving onto their head, a kid running blindly into a busy parking lot, or a teenager about to back out the driveway into oncoming traffic. In these situations, the best way to get your child to stop in their tracks is to capitalize on the startle response. That’s right; to scare them by using the biggest most serious voice you can conjure. That yell or shout you deliver when there’s no time to run interference or have a rational conversation is the equivalent of scaring your child on purpose to keep them safe. A few quick tips here:
#2: When your child is about to experience a real-life consequence that isn’t life threatening.
When kids are charging head-on toward danger it’s easy to understand how fear can be a teaching tool (and a life saver!). Things can get a bit sticker if there’s no immediate threat, but still a lesson to be learned. For example, your son is happily playing at the park but is so interested in the game of tag he’s playing that he wanders away from you and when the kids scatter he realizes he’s “lost.” Your daughter calls you from the principal's office because someone circulated a screen shot of something she texted that was not very kind. Or, your teenager made a bad call and used a fake ID to get into an 18+ club and got caught by security. In all of these situations, the child made a decision and is experiencing the natural consequences of that decision hopefully accompanied by a healthy dose of fear. As a parent, it’s important to resist the urge to rescue and allow your child to be scared before you step in and offer support and guidance. Some things to consider here:
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