Coping with Childhood Fears and Parenting Anxiety

Parenting promises a gift basket of surprises and sucker punches. They come in fun size, like the inexplicable awesomeness of teeny, tiny toes; jumbo size, like the power to live on goldfish dust and the memory of sleep; and call-the-doctor size, like the unholy resurrection of past childhood anxieties. No one warns us parents about that last one, but, whether we realize it or not, we all experience it from time to time.

What do these three things have in common: Halloween, the circus, and birthday parties? That’s right, clowns. (If you guessed sweets, you’re hungry.)

Coulrophobia, or the fear of clowns, is a phobia shared by many children and adults. In fact, there’s a phantom clown stalker hysteria in the the U.S. going on as I’m writing this (earlier this year it happened in Britain). If you have coulrophobia—12% of American adults suffer with it, 43% don’t like clowns, younger age groups and women have a higher dislike of clowns (Washington Examiner)—it’s easy enough to avoid when you’re a grown-up, unless your child is confronted with this fear, then it all comes back to you….

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It’s true. As parents, those gripping fears and crippling embarrassments we thought we had put to bed long ago–fear of the dark, spiders, bullies, dentists, the high diving board–can pop up any time our kids have similar experiences. If you’ve ever played bedtime jack-in-the-box with a toddler, you understand how this can create a new level of stress.

There is hope.

Along my personal path of parenting fails (and good, old fashioned fails) and fulfillment, I found a way through the childhood anxiety loop via humor and storytelling. I don’t mean picking any old book off the shelf; rather I’m referring to processing first-hand experiences and turning them into original, amusing stories suitable for kids.

Have you ever had that semi-recurring nightmare about suddenly finding yourself naked in front of your peers? A lot of us get that one starting in childhood. Well, one day in my 20s, while minding my own business on vacation in the Caribbean, my dream came true! Yep.

I dove head first off a pier full of friends and onlooking strangers into crystal clear water. I learned that day that when women dive in string bikinis in movies, and the swimsuit stays on, it’s all a lie.

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After I had collected my swimsuit, I swam away. Unfortunately, the ocean wasn’t a suitable place to live for a boat-less human, so I swam back; and since no one would say anything, I had the first laugh. My embarrassing nightmare then became my funny bikini fail story. I owned it, not the other way around.

My daughter still points, rolls, and laughs at me when she hears that one. However, it does the trick when she’s dreading, experiencing, or lamenting elementary school embarrassment. I’m still working on her coulrophobia, though. (Your parenting tips are always welcome!) It’s not easy being a kid. And it’s even harder when you have kids, right?

If you’re like me, you’ve amassed a “fun” collection of original stories in your pre-parenting archives. I’ve found that turning those once-angst-ridden experiences into relatable tales—problem-solving through storytelling—has become an alternative method to reliving every dramatic childhood disappointment alongside children.

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Since children love stories, and we can help them deal with their childhood dramas and traumas by focusing on the positive lessons we’ve learned through storytelling, it’s an entertaining alternative to lectures. In addition, maybe we work out a thing or two from our past. Nothing wrong with that!

About Elle C. Mayberry

Elle C. Mayberry is a mom and author, who just released a new children's book with her young daughter. With a passion for parenting and degrees in psychology and "make it workology," she created Tuned In Parents (TiP).

4 comments on “Coping with Childhood Fears and Parenting Anxiety

    • True. It started out as a phantom hysteria, but now it’s being realized by, as you say, “creepy pranksters” who are bound to take the hoax too far.

    • Powerful indeed, Kirsten. Religion, culture, family tradition, history … we pass it all down via stories. Why should parenting be any different, right?

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