Conquering Fears

Purple wolf, pumpkin and boy illustration by Jennifer Miller

It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena to face a battle to the death with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew — and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents – that there was all the difference in the world.

– From Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling 1

In children’s play scripts, picture books and playground games, the theme of conquering fears is played out repeatedly. Each developmental step requires a battle with self-doubt to risk, overcome and triumph. The reward is mastery, the satisfaction of accomplishing a goal and simultaneously controlling emotions. At Halloween time in particular, we delight in scary imagery gaining a feeling of control over the darkness.

Our aim for our children is not fearlessness. Every human being has fears. And they serve the critical purpose of warning us of threatening situations. They provide an extra jolt of energy and heighten our senses. But most situations are not life-threatening. Becoming practiced at dealing with fears means remaining their master, not their servant.

Roger Pittman of Harvard Medical School studies anxiety disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder.

One way to help patients diminish the impact of an anxiety-producing memory is to guide them to form a new memory that inhibits, or extinguishes, expression of the fearful memory during any recall attempt. 2

In other words, the old adage “Face your fears.” holds true. Thinking about or experiencing a fear in a safe context can provide new information to the one holding onto the fear to help him realize that it’s not really a matter of life and death. It can become even more powerful if the child imagines himself as the conquering hero and how that fear can be overcome. When I had nightmares as a child, my Dad would guide me to go back to the dream and visualize how I could conquer the evil that was taking me over. Would I need a valiant sword to slay the dragon or my creative mind to outwit the giant of my dreams? Children’s literature can be a constructive way of facing fears in a safe setting with a supportive adult. My son is too young to explore the world of “Harry Potter,” so here are some of our favorite picture books that raise important conversation topics and help him conquer his fears. What are your favorites? Please share!

There’s No Such Thing As Monsters! by Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler
Little Bear is going to sleep in his very own room without his older brother for the first time.There's no such thing as monstersHe hears strange noises and becomes scared of monsters. Little Bear conquers his fear and falls asleep on his own.

Scaredy Cat and Boo by Michael Broad
Scaredy Cat is afraid of spiders, the dark and most especially, the Scaredy Cat and Boobig tree in his yard. He makes a mouse friend named “Boo” who encourages him to face his fears. He realizes that not only are his fears unfounded but that he can actually enjoy encountering them.

Don’t Be Afraid, Little Pip by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
Pip is a penguin who is faced with the social obligation of learning to swim for the first time. He decides he’d prefer to fly instead and while attempting to Don't Be Afraid Little Piplearn to fly, ends up learning to swim. He discovers a love for swimming and a realization that it’s what he really wanted after all.

And on YouTube, listen to a reading of

The Dark by Lemony Snicket and Illustrated by Jon Klassen

This book is about a boy who wants to face the dark in order to conquer his fears and must go into his basement to the deepest, most shadowy corner in order to do so. Toddlers and preschoolers may be more frightened by this reading than is helpful since there are scary-sounding voices. It’s ideal for early primary school years.


Rowling, J.K. (2006). Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. NY: Scholastic Books.

Menting, Ann Marie. The Chill of Fear. Retrieved from Harvard Medicine, The Science of Emotion at on 10-24-14.

10 Comments on “Conquering Fears”

      • Indeed! I hope you’ve had a chance to see The BeLonging Projects (! I’ve just returned from 4-day visit to the schools in the original project in Mirano, Venice Italy, accompanied on this trip by two international educators also committed to transformation in education. This was their first visit and it was an experience as they saw kids learning to express multiple INTELLIGENCES. BeLoning, being heard, seen and understood is a joy and a wonder to behold for adults as well as learners!

      • That sounds amazing! I would love to see it. The schools that I have been to that really incorporate multiple intelligences do it in a way that feels seamless. They make it look easy. But it does require a whole lot of skill, thoughtful planning, patience and practice. I was so delighted to see your post! I plan to repost on my blog. Thank you sincerely for your support!!! I love it. Obviously this is a true work of love for me. It’s a joy to share it with others who really appreciate. Thank you sincerely! Eager to hear and learn more from your experiences so please keep in touch! I will visit The Belonging Project!

      • Jennifer, the American educator who visited asked the project in Italy came here to meet me first, and asked to visit; one month later, and off we went! I’ll get permission to share her thoughts with you! As you will see, this project is sooooooo easy to implement!

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