Jean Croker Petke

Got Any Fears?

Got Any Fears?

A black-and-white wooden cat, nearly 3 1/2 feet tall, resides in my hall, just inside the front door. I’ve had it for years. Most visitors greet it when they arrive, and pat its head as they leave.

But for The Boy, it’s both fascinating and fearful. Because it’s much bigger than he is, he can’t quite decide whether it’s friend or foe. Every time he visits, we have many discussions about Kitty.

The adults are concerned about his fear. We’ve talked about why he’s frightened of the cat, how we can help him overcome his fear, and what actions we might take. We know that fear and fascination often come together and that childhood fears are irrational but very real. Part of growing up is overcoming our fears.

Here’s what we’re doing with The Boy — perhaps our suggestions will be helpful for grown-ups and their fears as well:

Turn on the light. Fears are always worse in the dark.

Adults: get information

Take someone with you. Fears feel bigger when we are alone.

Adults: find a mentor, and expert, or someone with more experience

Create a mantra. Kitty is not real. Kitty is made of wood. Kitty cannot bite.

Adults: use positive self-talk to replace fearful talk

Face the corner. Eyes looking at you can be a strange phenomenon.

Adults: choose times when you refuse to let your fear take charge of your actions

Change its appearance. We dressed Kitty with dark glasses, a hat, and a long pink scarf.

Adults: celebrate small steps and victories

Change its position. We laid Kitty down on the floor, sat on her, rolled her over, even hugged her neck, and kissed her nose. We left her on the floor all day.

Adults: be the conquering hero, cut your fear down to size

Walk away. Before going home, we undressed Kitty, hung her hat on the hat rack, gave the sunglasses back to Mommy, and put the scarf in the closet. She will stay in her regular spot until the next visit.

Adults: you are in charge, not the fear.

Repeat the above. As necessary, repeat any or all of the above steps, in any order until the fear is gone.

Adults: overcoming is a process; be patient with yourself.

I expect we’ll go through all of the steps every time The Boy visits. As he grows, Kitty will feel less threatening. One day he’ll be taller than Kitty but he’s too young to know that now. Later he’ll remember how frightened he used to be; perhaps he’ll even laugh about it.

At night when I was a child, I knew that the monster who lived under my bed would snatch my arm if it hung over the bed’s edge. My parents told me there was no monster, but what if . . . what if . . . I took no chances. I secured my arms and legs under the blanket. Over time I came to believe there were no monsters under the bed.

Just as we helped our children overcome their fears, we need to help ourselves with our adult fears. We can work to understand our irrationalities and begin to grow beyond the fears that plague us.

We are proof that it can be done. The monsters under the bed have been gone a long time.

Until next Tuesday . . .