As far as basements go, ours is pretty low on the creepiness scale. No rock walls, damp corners or little critters scuttling for cover. Still, it was an unfinished, unfamiliar part of the house — and it was dark. For months after we moved in, our children were scared to venture down those stairs. When they did go, they hurried back up, casting anxious glances back into the darkness. It was a good opportunity to help them practice facing their fears — and practice determining if those fears were based in reality or their imagination.
Childhood fears are normal
Our kids' built-in "alarm system" will be triggered by many different things — storms, spiders, news reports, ghoulish Halloween displays. I tell my son and daughter that fears are a bit like the smoke alarm in our home. The alarm keeps us safe by alerting us when there's a fire. But sometimes, like when we're cooking bacon, the alarm just starts beeping anyway. We need to let in some fresh air, but the house isn't burning. Likewise, our fear alarm often "sounds" the same whether there's a serious emergency or we just need to take a fresh look at the situation.
Here are two principles we can use to help our kids better understand their fears:
Fear can be blinding
Help your children focus on reality, on the things that are true (Philippians 4:8). Bugs are a fun part of God's creation, and while we should avoid some of them, most are harmless. Darkness helps us rest — and lets us see the stars. The rain produced during thunderstorms helps plants grow. The basement is strong and safe — someday we'll turn it into a nice playroom.
Fear can be helpful
I tell my kids that although our fears sometimes alert us to things that may not be dangerous, God still gave us the emotion to help us make wise and safe decisions. We avoid scary images because they are designed to frighten us. We move to a safe place if a tornado or wildfire is approaching. We stay with a parent while out in big crowds.
Most of all, I help my kids recognize that while the world includes some scary things, we have each other — and a plan to stay safe together.Daniel Huerta is the executive director of Parenting and Youth and Focus on the Family.