Dispelling Fears

by Pastor Jack Hyles (1926-2001)

(Chapter 14 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, How To Rear Children)

An old Chinese proverb says, "Cowards die many times before they are dead." Shakespeare said, "The valiant never taste death but once." Emerson wrote, "Fear always spring from ignorance." In order to rear a happy and well-adjusted child parents must first face the reality of fears in a child's life.

There are tow types of fears to be faced. First, there are some fears that are unavoidable and are common to all people. The child should be taught that there is no shame in feeling such fears. It is not wrong to feel fear; one cannot help the feeling. The wrong lies in yielding to it and not allowing the will to control the action. Feeling is not under the control of the will; yielding to that feeling is. It is the will that controls actions. Hence, when one is a coward it is because he has a weak will. (Note the chapter on SELF- CONTROL.) There are no doubt in the mind of this author but the Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were afraid of the fiery furnace and that Daniel was afraid of the lion's den. They no doubt felt a feeling of fear, but their actions were not controlled by their feelings. Their actions were controlled by their wills. Hence, a child should be taught that there is nothing wrong in being afraid if he does what he ought to do and if his will decides what he does even in the face of fear.

The second issue that must e faced is the presence of unnecessary fears. One emphasis in this chapter is to teach the parent to teach the child how to eliminate and avoid unnecessary fears. There are many undesirable companions that associate with fear. Fear, we are told, often destroys the white corpuscles of the blood until one's resistance is made low and he can no longer effectively fight the germs of diseases. Medical science teaches that courageous people are not as likely to contact diseases, especially contagious ones. Medical papers once reported a man whose heart was giving forth a peculiar sound. He felt he was suffering from heart disease. He became so weak that he had to call for a doctor. Upon examination the doctor found that he peculiar rasping sound was caused by the man's suspenders on the left side. They were defective and caused the sound. As soon as the man learned of the cause, he recovered!

Now let us notice some common fears and ways to help a child face the inevitable ones and eliminate or avoid unnecessary ones.

1. Fear of darkness. Most of us at one time or another have feared to be alone in the dark. This is a fear that is cultivated and is certainly not necessary. Many parents cultivate and perhaps even create such a fear by creating imaginary creatures who live in the darkness. Oftentimes we teach our children by disciplining them improperly that certain evils and wicked powers live in the darkness. We talk to them about the bogeyman who will get them if they are bad. We teach them fairy tales which often associate horrible creatures with the darkness.

A good way to combat this is to imagine that good people live in the darkness. Teach your child stories in which helpful beings lurk in the dark. (Be sure to be honest with the child and let him know it is only a fairy tale.)

The wise parent will think of a lot of things a child can do in the dark. On a summer night let him lie on a pallet in the yard with the parents nearby. The parents could go inside for a drink of water and stay for about a minute showing the child he can be in the darkness alone. Let the child hunt what we used to call lightning bugs.

The parent should also show the child the beauty of the nighttime. Dwell on the beauty of twilight. Teach him to look at the stars and the moon and to watch the beauties of the heavens. Make him acquainted with the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, and Milky Way, Mars, etc. In other words, teach the child to enjoy nighttime.

2. Fear of being alone. This is also needless fear. It is one that is cultivated and can certainly be avoided. Again there are several things that can be done. First, when the child is just a baby let him be alone. When a baby is just a few days old he learns whether or not he can get extra attention. He finds whether or not a cry or whimper will get somebody to come to his side. If the baby is not sick and not uncomfortable, he should be left alone even if he cries. The crying baby should be examined by the wise parent. If there is no obvious discomfort such as being stuck by a diaper pin, the parent should leave the child to himself. When the child gets a little older the parent may choose to go out into the yard for thirty seconds leaving the child in the house alone. This period of time could be increased, thought the parent should perhaps watch from the window to see the very young child is all right. The idea is to let him feel alone and get the habit of realizing it is not bad to be alone.

One of the main reasons children are afraid to be alone is they dread silence. When other people are around the noises they make seem to offer a sense of security. When we are alone not only do we not hear noises of others, we also hear noises that we do not normally hear such as the moaning of the wind, the warping of the woodwork, the sound of the cricket, etc. Hence, it is wise for a child to be taught to make noise himself while he is alone. He can do some work that will require noise. He can hammer, saw, or make some other noise so the absence of the noise of others will not be missed and the presence of undesirable noises will not be heard. A good habit is to sing or read aloud when alone. Many times the fear of being alone is simply the fear of being in silence. If nothing else, the radio or television can be played. At any rate, the child should be taught not to be afraid to be alone. It is alarming how many adults are afraid to be alone, especially so during the night hours.

3. Fear of storms. Here is a fear that is easily cultivated and that is difficult to prevent. It is a very real one in the life of the child and the parent must be more diligent with the expelling and avoiding of this one than those previously mentioned. One important thing to remember is that the time for teaching lessons concerning storms and alleviating their fears is during good weather. During the storm is no time to teach a lesson on fear of storms. When the weather is calm, the sun is bright and shining, and the skies are clear, the parents should teach their child not to be afraid of storms. Pick out some beautiful day and tell the child the cause of storms, the good they accomplish. Show him weather maps. Convince and assure him that the danger of an electric shock is already over after the flash has been seen. Assure him that the building is protected by lightning rods, etc. Explain that the rods convey the electric shock to the ground. Someone has said that ignorance is the mother of fear. Therefore, take the child to the lightning rods and show him they are in perfect condition. Teach him how they work. Assure him that every precaution has been taken for his safety. Teach him where the dangerous places are during storms so he can find a safe place.

The wise parent will plan some exciting activity for the child during a storm so as to take his mind off the supposed danger. It might even be wise to point out the beauties of the storm while it is in progress.

Of course, the most important thing is to teach children that God will care for them. Have them memorize Scriptures that will give strength, such as Psalm 91. Lead them in quoting such Scriptures during the storm.

4. Fear of pain. Here is a fear that is found in varying degrees in all of us and such a fear can control the will if it is improperly developed or is too weak. In infancy a child should not be held too delicately. This is not to say the parent should be rough with the baby. Quite to the contrary! As he grows he should certainly not be treated like a piece of delicate china. As soon as possible he should be taught to play games that require physical activity and vigorous use of the body. He should form the habit of doing exercises that require physical discomfort and perspiring. Then as soon as possible the boy should engage in contact sports such as football, basketball, baseball, etc. He should feel the jar of the tackle, the discomfort of a fall, the pain of a skinned thigh (we used to call those "strawberries" when we were boys), and the jolts of competition.

When injuries come the child should feel that the parent cares and is concerned about his safety, but that pain is a part of life and that he must learn to bear his own burden without being spoiled by too much sympathy from others. Again courage in such cases depends on the strength of the will as is given in the chapter SELF-CONTROL. A child when is pain can cry or he can show the strength of his will by a smile. The proper will in a child can force him to do what he ought to do even when in pain. Teach him he can endure pain with a smile like a hero or be weak like a coward.

Tell the child stories of great men who did great things while in pain. Make heroes of Robert Louis Stevenson, who was an invalid all his life but bore his pain with gentleness and optimism. Tell him of many heroes who fought the battle in spite of pain. Acquaint him with Elizabeth Barrett, who was an invalid; and Louisa May Alcott, who wrote AN OLD - FASHIONED GIRL with one arm in a sling, a terrible headache, and no voice. Teach him about John Bunyan, who wrote PILGRIM'S PROGRESS on milk bottle stoppers delivered to him while he was in prison suffering for having preached the Gospel.

Teach him new ways of expressing pain. Do not allow him to whine. Some people whistle when they hurt. Some people have a favorite song they begin to sing. Such expressions may mean that the child is actually complaining, but it will not be interpreted as such by others and they will not excessively sympathize with him and spoil him.

Of course, the wise parent will set the example. If the parent fears nothing but doing wrong, the fears of the children will also be alleviated. Children love to imitate parents. Let them see that the parent has courage in a storm, does not scream or jump on a chair when a mouse runs through the room, is not afraid of the dark, etc. The child will imitate the behavior of the parent.

5. Fear of emergency. The child's mind should be trained to be ready in time of danger. He should be taught what to do in times of emergency so that by reflex he will do what is best.

This can be done by discussing with the child possible disasters and giving him a few seconds to answer what he would do in such an emergency. Ask this over and over again and let him answer it repeatedly so the response to a crisis will be automatic.

The wise parent will also let his child participate in activities that require quick decisions. Games such as basketball, ice hockey, etc. are good.

The child should be allowed to act under pressure. When some small crisis arises, the child should be allowed to make his own decision without interference of the overprotective parent.

The child should be drilled in certain emergency practices. The parent should lead the child in supposing that someone is breaking in the house. The child rushes to the phone and dials the police (with his finger on the receiver, of course). Similar situations should be acted out until the child will be properly rehearsed in knowing exactly what to do. This is the psychology behind a fire drill at school. There should be other drills teaching a child exactly what to do when a crisis arises. He will then be able to "keep his cool" under any circumstance.

6. Fear of being different. Here is a little imp that lurks in all of us. Early in a child's life he should be taught to doubt and question. He should be taught that it should be his will and not the following of the crowd that makes his decisions. Teach him to suspicion the crowd. Show him that following the crowd is basically slavery. Warn him to keep out of a mob. Someone has said, "A man who deliberately joins a mob confesses two things: that he has secret impulses of evil to which he wishes to give rein, and that he is a coward seeking the shelter of numbers to shield him from the consequences of his crimes." Warn him about joining gangs. Many a child has stolen peaches from an orchard, insulted someone who is less fortunate, done impish pranks on Halloween, etc. just because he was part of a gang.

Especially warn the child to hate the word "let's." He should be warned to suspicion anyone who says, "Let's do so-and-so." The child should be taught that he should exercise his own will, not the mass will of a gang or the crowd. James Bruce said, "There are many echoes but few voices." Theodore Roosevelt said, "Man must have a master. If he is not his own master, someone else will be."

Lead your child to make heroes of men who have not followed the crowd, but have been their own wills. Make heroes of Martin Luther, Benjamin Franklin, and others. Remind the child that no one who did things because others did them has his name indelibly imprinted in the pages of history for his greatness. They used their own minds, were guided by their own consciences, and exercised their own wills. The world may laugh or scorn. The world may criticize or condemn, but they were their own men and though they wanted to please. Often when a strong person of conviction refuses to follow the crowd, the crowd will follow him.

7. Fear of superstition. Many children are so superstitious that life if filled with unnecessary fears. They are told too many stories of ghosts and witches and are taught to fear them by parents who zealously and yet wrongly discipline. The wise parent will lead his child to avoid such superstitions as being afraid of a black cat or crossing the street, being superstitious about the number 13 or the day Friday. Teach him that Columbus, who discovered American was born on Friday; Washington was born on Friday as were Tennyson, Dickens, Michelangelo, and others. The Battle of Bunker Hill occurred on Friday, June 17, 1775. The English surrendered at Yorktown on Friday, October 18, 1781. The union of the colonists was made on Friday, May 20, 1775. The Mayflower disembarked its first persons on American soil on Friday, and it landed at Plymouth Rock on Friday. Have them purposely do things on the 13th and use the number 13. Don't let him go through life being fearful of Friday, or the 13th. or black cats, etc. Teach the child that God is able to protect every day and that there are no accidents in the life of a Christian. Teach him Romans 8:28. Show him that everything works together for good if he loves God and stays in God's will. Hence, there are no accidents, there is no need for superstition, and the Christian can trust God for everything. So can the child!

There are many other fears that should be avoided or alleviated in the mind of a child. There are some justifiable fears that need to be placed in proper perspective. These fears should not, however, be exaggerated. Then there are things which the child should fear but which he should face. He should realize that the degree of courage is determined by the degree of fear. If there is no fear, there is no courage; simply recklessness. Over and over again the child should hear the words, "Use your own will. Let the will decide what you do. Let neither feelings nor fear control you."

Of course, one of the secrets to avoid, alleviate, and overcome fear, is to stay busy. Idle time is the time often spent in building imaginary enemies with imaginary ends and results. It is said that Sir Walter Scott dictated IVANHOE while he was in a painful condition. He kept his mind on his story and continued to write even though he was writhing in pain. Folks who watched him said that he would become so engrossed in the story that he would get up and pace from one side of the room to the other while dictating, obviously in pain but oblivious to it because he was busy. Think of the times our Lord came to troubled ones and said, "Fear not." May He speak those words to us and through us to our children that their lives may be free from unnecessary fears and full of courage to do right even when afraid to do so.


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