Kid Wisdom: What Is Fear?

In an attempt to help adults reconcile some of their biggest fears, I looked to kids for answers. I began interviewing children in July; we talked about work, money, and love—what it is, how you know that you’re in it, and why people do the things they do. Though they brought light to many of my questions, I still worried about other things, namely fear. Can you be afraid of being afraid?

As you might imagine, kid fears are different than adult fears. For the most part, I’ve grown out of my fear of monsters and ghosts. (Unless, of course I’m in a cemetery trying to communicate with the spirit of a girl who was murdered and eaten by pigs more than 150 years ago. That will give anyone the creeps.)

But I wondered, what do kids think adults are afraid of? Why do kids become afraid… and most importantly, what do they fear most? Among the top ten are monsters and ghosts, being alone in the dark, dentist and doctor’s visits, and the loss of a parent.

No surprise, then, that the kids I talked to listed many of those same fears. And a few more—talking to people they didn’t know, bad guys, and skeletons. One boy admitted, “And I like skeletons but I’m a little bit ascared.” His twin brother was quick to reassure him that was nonsense. “But we are skeletons… inside.”

But I also wanted to know why they get “ascared” and what things specifically scare them?

“Because… maybe because dark comes and maybe it’s storming and then maybe monsters and zombies pop up,” said one little boy. Another little boy acknowledged his own imagination running away from him: “When I’m in the dark in my room, I kinda see things that aren’t really there. A pile of clothes can look like a weird face or something.”

When kids are afraid, they look to adults, like their parents, for comfort. Most of the kids I interviewed believe “adults aren’t scared.” If they are, it’s at least not about ghosts and goblins. It might just be about “how much the bill is for the house or car… or if they can’t pay for their taxes.”

In the end, we need to remember to remain the fearless adults these kids think we are. And if you really do get afraid, remind yourself, “It’s not real. Just draw a picture of it, cut it up with scissors, and throw it in the trash. That’s what makes the monster disappear.” Although I don’t suggest that with bills. Those monsters will come back to life no matter how many times you try to kill them.

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