And, with those five simple words marks the beginning of the end of my son's innocence.
He isn't a sheltered child, by any means. I allow him to watch TV, carefully chosen shows with the occasional splurge, like his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We go to the movies when there is an age-appropriate movie playing. He even has his own little Innotab game system; since he's only four he doesn't yet play Nintendo or Playstation. And, we go out and about on a daily basis, experiencing life outside our carefully secured home.
None of these experiences had ever given him cause to feel fear, though. Not just the cautionary fear that keeps us from touching something hot or jumping off a cliff, but the kind of fear that creeps into your psyche, cementing itself into your very core; the kind of fear that is weighing down my once carefree and fearless little boy. Up until a couple of weeks ago, my son had managed to maintain his sense of safety and security, not knowing that life can be wrought with paralyzing fear. He loved his alone time, relishing in a basket of books while I showered or playing out back in his sand box with just our dogs to keep him company.
Now, noises and sounds that used to intrigue him, pique his interest, and draw him towards their source for further investigation, send him running the other way. He won't go to his bathroom by himself, nor does he play alone in his room anymore. When I try to send him to enjoy some alone time, I am met with the sharp pain of "Mommy, the fearness came back!" Not only does it hurt me to see him afraid, but his shame in being afraid shows on his sweet little face! Even though I tell him it's okay to be afraid, I want to encourage him to face his fears.
After this morning's declaration, I sat down with my little guy to find out where this "fearness" came from. Turns out, he had watched a documentary on the Chupacabra with my dad a couple of weeks ago. I don't think my dad realized it would frighten him the way it has, and maybe he didn't even realize my son was there watching it (my dad often falls asleep in his recliner while watching TV :-). So, I did what most parents would do, I assured him there was no such thing as a Chupacabra, that the TV show was make-believe. I also reassured him that, even if there was such a creature, it would probably be more scared of us than we are of it. To really bring it home, I told my son there was no way our dogs would let anyone, or anything, get close enough to hurt him.
But, to this little four year old who, while he understands that cartoons aren't real, the Chupacabra most certainly is! No amount of reassurance could convince him otherwise. Which brings me to my dilemma! I want to be there for my son, to comfort him, to protect him, but to what extent? I believe in giving my son the space and the freedom to work through his own problems, to figure things out on his own; I always have.
When we are at the park and another little boy pushes him, I don't address the little boy; I tell my son he has every right to tell that little boy he doesn't like being pushed and to please stop. I want my son to know that he has a voice, and I want to encourage him to use it!
When my son is working on a complex puzzle, I contain my urge to rotate that one final piece he just can't seem to make fit; allowing him the confidence-boosting satisfaction of discovering it all on his own!
While I would never want my son to hurt himself, I do gauge certain circumstances and, if the most he will get is a cut or a bruise, I let him figure it out on his own. Like learning how to ride a bike: if I'm always there to hold him up, he will never learn how to "fly".
I want to be there for him when he needs me; pick him up when he does fall down; comfort his sensitive nature when the world breaks his heart.
Since he won't play in his room alone, I moved his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' Secret Sewer Lair, into the living room. It now perches on our brick fireplace so that he can play with it in the presence of the dogs and me. But, I don't want to smother him, deny him the opportunities to develop his inner strength, or shelter him from the irreplaceable lessons of making mistakes and getting hurt.
So, how do I protect him from the potentially chronic fears that develop into phobias, but at the same time nurture his sense of adventure and passion? What do I do when "the fearness comes back"?