How to Help Kids Find the Funny in Their Fears

by Bethany Barton

Credit: Brand New Images, Iconica Collection/Getty Images

Halloween is coming! Soon streets, stores, even snacks will be themed like ghosts and ghouls! Which can be totally fun…

But what do we do when it isn’t?

I love icky things. Monsters? Sign me up! Snakes? Sure, I’ll pet one! Bats? How cute! Spiders? AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!

(That’s the sound of me running away from my keyboard at the mention of spiders.)

Okay, okay, I’m exaggerating. But for a long time, spiders were certainly the Kings and Queens of Creepy on my list. So how did I cope with my fears? I wrote a book about spiders, of course!

On my journey to writing my nonfiction picture book, I’m Trying to Love Spiders, I came across a little girl and her mother in a CVS drugstore. It was a few weeks before Halloween and the aisles were overflowing with costumes and creepy decorations.

“Is THIS scary mommy?” the little girl said, holding up a ghostly rubber mask. She was only around three years old, so “Is dis scawwee mommy?” is probably a more accurate quote. And if her t-shirt was to be trusted, her name was “Grandma’s Girl.”

“Some people think it is,” her mother responded, with a bit of a shrug. That answer seemed to satisfy Grandma’s Girl, so she nodded and picked up something else.

This time, a giant wiggly spider. (GASP!) “Is DIS scawee, mommy?” she asked. “Some people think so,” her mother answered patiently, “but what do you think?”

The little girl faked a shudder, “Ooooo! Scaweee!” then giggled, kissed the spider, and tossed it back on the shelf. She continued this line of questioning with every item she could get her hands on.

Why am I telling you this? Because, I hadn’t really thought of it — until I encountered “Grandma’s Girl” in that CVS — that in many cases, being scared of something is a choice. And I find that thought wildly empowering! I CAN LIKE THINGS I’M SCARED OF, I tell myself now! (Boldly, and in ALL CAPS!)

Yes, Grandma’s Girl, spiders are scaweee … but they don’t have to be!

Bethany Barton’s Totally Unscientific But-Hey-It-Worked-for-Me System to Find the Fun in Your Fears:

1. Learn all you can about the scary thing.
You can find at least three interesting facts about almost every scary thing. Did you know Egypt invented clowns? Or that scorpions glow under black light?

Learning as much as you can about things that scare you helps to dispel the mystery … and with it, lots of the fear!

BONUS: Working with your child to find facts about whatever gives them the creeps also gives them an opportunity to talk about their fear at length with you! And talking always helps!

2. Find something about the scary thing that you can laugh at.
Most creepy things are truly silly when you step back and look at them in the light. Now that you’ve learned more about whatever gives you the creeps, it’s time to find the funny in your fears! For every scary-looking monster there are two goofy-looking ones to be found. Black widows might look eerie, but have you seen a video of the Peacock Spider dancing? Those little fellas are hilarious! Laughter is the best diffuser of fear.

3. Talk to someone you trust, and find out how they deal with fear.
Teachers, parents, grandparents … everyone has been scared of something at one point or another. Sharing this common “we’ve all been there” perspective with your child helps them to understand that fears can be overcome, or at least laughed at!

BONUS: Find stories of people/creatures who truly enjoy that scary thing, and don’t find it scary at all.

Owls love the dark, Katherine Roy loves sharks, just about every icky thing has a number one fan!

In David Sedaris’s book When You Are Engulfed in Flames, Sedaris describes his joy in finding out that the house he’s staying in is also home to many spiders. No, you didn’t read that incorrectly; He was excited about spiders in the house, and welcomed them as pets! (…WHAAAAA?) Reading his essay showed me a whole new way of looking at spiders I’d never even considered: Spiders can be welcome friends? I didn’t know that was an option!

So where did my journey of “Finding the Funny in My Fears” bring me? Well, love is a strong word, but I’m truly not scared of spiders anymore! (The system works!) In fact, after learning so much about spiders I often get close to them on purpose, just to try and figure out what kind of spider they are.

So I’ve changed my answer, Grandma’s Girl, spiders are not entirely “scaweee” … and isn’t that fun?