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.He 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 big 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 learn 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
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 http://hms.harvard.edu/news/harvard-medicine/chill-fear on 10-24-14.