Working through fear with kids
Nakita: Dr. Lockhart, thinking about this episode, what do you do when you feel an emotion that feels uncomfortable?
Ann-Louise: Ah, that's such a great question. You know, I start by noticing the feeling and then I really do my best to figure out why that feeling is there. I also like to talk to a friend or my husband about it, and sometimes I just give myself a break, maybe take a nap or watch something funny.
That's one of my favorite things to do. What about you? What do you do when you have uncomfortable feelings?
Nakita: Mm, that's a good question. You know, sometimes I used to try to find something else to distract myself. So that way I wouldn't feel the feeling, but now that I've gotten older and with a lot more practice, Sometimes I just find it more helpful to sit with the feeling and ask a lot of why questions—why am I feeling this way?
What's making me, or even [questioning] what is making me feel so uncomfortable? Is it this emotion? Is it maybe something else happening around me? And when I take some time asking myself a lot of questions, I'll journal them. I'll do something that I like a lot, like doodling or color. And sometimes I'll talk with a friend so that way can help myself understand what I'm feeling and process it a little better.
And it's always a friend that I trust and I always make sure that they have the space to listen to me talk about my feelings. So we're going to discuss one of the uncomfortable feelings people experienced today. Are you ready?
Ann-Louise: I sure am.
Ann-Louise: Yeah, That must have been really scary because when we go through something we've never gone through before, and we don't know what we're supposed to do, like we haven't rehearsed. How do you handle things when you feel scared? And sometimes we haven't gone through that. It's kind of like when you're at school and there's a fire drill and they go through the steps that you're supposed to take, but we don't go through drills at home. And so that's why it can feel even, like, scary.
Nakita: That's so true. I can't think of any scary situation that I've experienced, that I knew exactly what to do. Sometimes it feels as though my brain has all the bells and whistles going off and I'm not always sure how to act. There's no rehearsal. And my brain is just trying to figure out what is the next step that I should take now that I've experienced this very big and scary.
Ann-Louise: Yeah. You know, I remember when I was a kid and I used to be afraid of the dark. And I would have to walk our family dog in the dark and we lived in a dark neighborhood. And so I would be so scared. And I just remember thinking, well, you know, like, what am I supposed to do with all these scary thoughts? And that's hard when you just feel like you're left alone, literally in the dark feelings.
Ann-Louise: You know, Nakita, it's okay to be scared when scary things happen and when scary things happen, it can trigger many other feelings.
You know, as a kid, you're still learning about feelings and your brain is learning about what to do when you feel them. It's a lot to learn.
Nakita: Oof. It really is. Even grownups are still figuring out and learning about what to do when big feelings happen. It doesn't automatically get easier just because you grew up. You know, Dr.
Lockhart, I'm wondering if there are other names used to describe the feeling of [being] scared?
Ann-Louise: That's a great question, Nakita. Now there are definitely words we can use to describe the emotion of feeling scared. These are called synonyms words, such as worried, panicked, nervous, unsafe, fear, unsettled, and guarded come to mind.
They mean slightly different things, but they all describe different ways. We feel scared. And what happens in our bodies when that happens.
Nakita: Hmm. Now, why do you think it's important to feel scared or nervous or even unsettled sometimes?
Ann-Louise: You know, I definitely think it's important to feel scared or unsettled sometimes because it might be our body's way of telling us that a situation is unsafe.
Maybe our brain is telling us to step back and make sure a certain person is okay to be around. Our body and our brain can be our friend, helping us make sense of the world. We just don't want it warning us all the time, thinking everything is dangerous.
Nakita: Dr. Lockhart, thank you so much for sharing that. I think it's important to remember that it's okay to know that what's happening is a natural response when we're feeling scared.
And feeling scared sometimes is our body's way of keeping us from harm.
You know, I remember feeling unguarded and unsafe when I was walking home from school and a really big dog was following my friends and I back to our apartment complex and it was totally unheard of. Didn’t ever expect it. And having a big dog bark and follow you all the way back to your home is kind of scary, especially when you're a kid and you're not sure what to do.
Ann-Louise: That does sound scary and kind of funny too. I remember feeling nervous and panicked specifically when I was with my friend who was my neighbor and we were walking her cat.
She had the brilliant idea that we should walk her cat. And we were walking the kids’ cat, and this huge dog started chasing us and we took off. I didn't remember exactly what happened. I remember falling, you know, like you do in a really scary movie. It was not a great situation, but I was so panicked in that moment.
It turned out well, by the way.
Nakita: Dr. Lockhart, before we wrap up, are there any tools for scary thoughts and feelings that you think would help our listeners and even the grownups?
Ann-Louise: Absolutely Nakita. I have three really helpful tools and tips.
So first, your feelings are not your enemy. Your feelings give you messages about other people and the world around you. So just embrace those feelings. Even the scary ones, it's going to be uncomfortable. I know, but this is an important process. It's going to be scary. I know, but this is an important part of the process.
Second, when you feel scared, slow your breathing and breathe from your belly, like you're blowing up a balloon or blowing a pinwheel slow and steady breaths.
Remind yourself, you are brave. You can do hard things and you deserve to feel safe and to be safe. It's okay to tell people what you need when you feel unsure or scared.
This is Everyday Feels, a podcast about emotions for kids and their grownups. Each episode we explore a new emotion, and why we may be feeling that way.