News & Views
from   The Parenting Center at Abington

.       Hope for a Haunted House
Helping our Kids Cope with Fear and Worry

 Haunted houses were one of my favorite stops as a child when visiting amusement parks or attending a Halloween event. Braced and full of anticipation for whatever creature might leap out with a clanging chain, I kept my hands clenched tightly and screamed as much as possible! Victory greeted me at the end when the doors opened and the real world was still there. I had survived the dreaded darkness.

   Not all kids enjoy this kind of experience. Some by nature are more temperamentally sensitive and thereby affected negatively by such intensity. Halloween is not the holiday of choice for every child. In fact, most pre-school children are not yet able to distinguish fantasy from reality. For them, monsters seem real, and not just at Halloween.

   Most children, at some time in their development, will dwell in a haunted house. A toddler's fear over an invisible creature or a teen's worry about a pending move can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days, or even weeks. (When longer, professional help may be needed.) Whatever the issue or even the age of the child, the feelings themselves can be frightening when unfamiliar.

   Fearful or worrying children in our homes can create “haunting” feelings for parents. As parents, we usually feel more “successful” if our children are smiling, bouncy, cooperative and enjoying life. We want them to be happy, contented, pleased with themselves and life. Therefore, our tendency is to offer reassurance and comfort ASAP!

    I recall an evening last spring sitting at the kitchen table with my ten year-old daughter. A school project was looming over her head. Fear of doing it incorrectly, not having enough information, not completing it on time, disappointing the teacher, all came tumbling out between sobs and shaking. Quickly, I reached out to affirm her abilities, her efforts and to reassure her that the teacher would understand. I even offered to talk with the teacher! She only sobbed harder, repeating her earlier worries with increased intensity.

   Then it clicked. She needed me to listen, accept and empathize with her instead of trying to make it all better. Gradually, I let go of my agenda and began responding to the reality of her world, her dreaded darkness.

   You aren't sure what Mrs. B. wants you to do

    You feel worried that you can't do it all by tomorrow.
   It seems like way too much to do.

   I reflected these statements back to her, taking time in between to nod my head, touch her arm, and add an "uh-huh", or an "umm" as acknowledgement. Her body began to relax; the sobs decreased. Empathetic, or active listening as we call it at The Parenting Center, was giving her permission to feel her pain, to be in the “haunted house,” uncertain of what might lie ahead.

   Faber & Mazlish in How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, relate that in order to raise happy kids, we need to allow for a lot of unhappiness. In other words, in the spirit of the season, we need to let them experience times in a haunted house so that they are prepared to live in the real world with all its twists and turns, ins and outs, highs and lows.

   Consider your own feelings when describing a troubling experience to someone. Most of us feel put down or discounted when we hear, "It'll be OK", or "Don't worry".

   Haunted houses are probably more fun when we know we can share the experience with someone in whom we trust. (Come to think of it, I never traveled through the real ones alone!) Perhaps this season has something to teach us about how we can respond to our children's feelings in healthier ways that lead to healthier, more trusting relationships and happier adults.


By Pam Nicholson, MSW, Certified Parenting Educator

Oct. 2001
Vol. 4/Issue 2

A publication from The Parenting Center at Abington
P.O. Box 596, Abington, PA 19001 (215) 576-0586

Printing of this newsletter is courtesy of the Abington Memorial Hospital.

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