Cub would like to make it clear that he no longer fears bunnies.
8 years ago, however, had you said “bunny” in front of our sweet little Cub, you would have seen him shiver in fright. Frequently, we found a little Cub-shaped visitor in our bedroom at night due to nightmares about bunnies.
The night before Easter, when Cub was maybe 4 or 5 years old, this bunny-phobia reared its ugly head once again. Cub was afraid to go to sleep.
“Mom, I just don’t think I’ll be able to sleep knowing that a giant bunny will be moving around the house.”
“You won’t even know the Easter Bunny is here. You’ll be sleeping and it will be in and out of the house so quick you won’t even have to see it.”
“But, what if I have to go to the bathroom and I come downstairs while he’s here?!”
“Well, remember, the Easter Bunny is magical, so he’ll know if you wake up and he’ll hide so you won’t see him.”
“Mom! That’s even worse! The thought of a 6 foot rabbit hiding in my house at night is even creepier than if I had to see it!”
Strange parenting choice of lying to my child to convince him that a basket-delivering magical bunny which terrifies him actually exists aside, why am I bringing this up? No, I’m not trying to publicly humiliate my pre-teen by exposing the fears of his younger years. And, yes, he gave approval for me to share this story.
I share because it shows the ridiculousness of fear.
Fear, like all emotions, has a very real and important purpose. It tells us when to be on guard. It encourages us to protect ourselves. It keeps us alive in very real situations of danger.
But there’s another element of fear that can be particularly challenging for our intensely creative minds and kids.
Fear ALWAYS depends on an element of imagination.
Think about it. A thunderstorm. We’re not actually afraid of the storm, we’re afraid of what our mind imagines the storm will do. We’re afraid that a tree will be blown over onto our house. We’re afraid that the power will go out for days and all our refrigerated and frozen food will be destroyed. We’re afraid that the pouring rain will flood our basement and create more damage than we have money to repair.
A reckless driver. We’re not actually afraid of the driver itself. We’re afraid that the driver will create a car accident. And we’re not actually afraid of the car accident, we’re afraid that someone we care about will be injured or die in the car accident. We’re afraid of pain that might be caused by the car accident. We’re afraid that the pain will be so intense we won’t be able to handle it.
A test. The test itself isn’t scary. It’s the thought that we might fail the test. It’s the thought that if we fail the test we will fail the class. If we fail the class our parents will disown us, we’ll flunk out of high school, we won’t be able to get a job, and we’ll be destined to live in a van down by the river for the remainder of our lives.
The unknown. We’re not actually afraid of not knowing. We’re afraid of what might happen. We paint a picture of the worst case scenario and are afraid that it will bring the end of life as we know it.
And since fear always depends on imagination, those of us with our own wildly creative sides and who have children with wildly creative brains, are vulnerable to intense, paralyzing fear. We’re vulnerable to finding the dark side of fuzzy bunnies.
So, what do we do about it?
We remind ourselves that our imagination and the stories our brains tell us, are the actual culprits of fear. We remind ourselves that we have no proof that the storm, the driver, the test, the bunny are actually going to bring about Armageddon. In fact, the odds that things will turn out just fine, are at least as big the odds that all hell will break loose.
We remind ourselves that even if all hell breaks loose, even if the absolutely worst case scenario occurs, we will find a way to get through it. Fear has a way of making us feel that not only is the worst case result a guarantee, but we will also not be able to handle it. When, in truth, we all have a 100% track record of handling difficult situations. We’ve all made it through and there’s nothing to suggest we won’t be able to handle whatever comes next.
We remind ourselves that our intensely creative minds can not only be used to predict utter destruction and chaos, but they can also be used to predict utterly fantastic results. We can intentionally use our brains to imagine the best case scenario, which really should be just as dramatic as the worst case scenario that automatically invades our thoughts. Maybe the test will not result with us living in a van down by the river. Maybe we will do so well on the test that the teacher determines we can simply pass through the rest of the class because we know the material so well. And maybe the teacher nominates us to have a day named after us because of our extraordinary test-taking abilities and all the city rejoices with us in our amazingness.
We remind ourselves that most situations are not actually life or death, even though it can feel that way. We take a few breathes, understand that the logical part of our brain needs a few seconds to catch up and regulate our emotions which try desperately to hijack us at every moment they can.
We remind ourselves to find contentment and peace, while also remaining vigilant. No, the odds that my home will be destroyed with every storm are pretty miniscule, but that doesn’t mean I’ll let my kids play outside and climb trees while its lightening. We must stay calm and present. Be mindful and vigilant to reduce risk, while also understanding that, in the end, everything will be ok. Even if there is a 6 foot bunny hiding in the house!