Fort Worth, Texas,
16:43 PM

What 'Inside Out' teaches us about fear

A Child Life specialist explains how to help your child cope with fear

If you’ve seen “Inside Out,” you’ve seen how Joy leads the other emotions at the beginning of the movie, including Fear.

We can’t blame her, right? What parent doesn’t want joy to be the emotion that fills a child’s day, week, year and lifetime?

It’s the positive emotions, like joy, that we desire to be constantly filled with and to override the control center in our minds when any sign of the more ‘negative’ emotions, such as fear, sadness and anger start to rise.

Now, wanting to be a seemingly joyful, happy or content person is not at all a bad thing. Rather it’s that optimistic, glass half-full type of outlook on life that tends to attract others.

But what place do other negative emotions – like fear – have? Are they to simply be forever locked away in the subconscious realm of our minds? Could any expression of fear or anger or sadness, negative emotions that we so often seek to avoid, have a positive effect?

Fear is one of the emotions we hope our kids avoid. And when they inevitably do happen, we hope they overcome these emotions.

I believe that expressing our emotions, both positive and negative, can, in many cases create a more positive experience than suppressing or avoiding these more negative emotions such as fear.

Children who fear heights might not be the first in line to ride the rollercoaster. If someone fears snakes, they might bypass the reptile area at the zoo. When we fear something, we often try to avoid it. Sometimes, however, we inevitably are forced to come face-to-face with our fears. Or, we are placed in situations where we experience fears we didn’t know we had.

This happens all the time when children have to go to the hospital. For many children, going to see the doctor or coming to the hospital is a new experience. They often fear the unknown or their imaginations create a terrifying image of what is about to happen next. And when children have many hospital experiences and become ‘frequent flyers,’ they develop fears based on what they’ve experienced in the past.

Fears in this type of setting are almost inevitable. Our natural tendency as parents, adults or caregivers is to protect children from these fears by leaving out the scary details or distracting them so they won’t think about them.

However, many times these fears are still present and it is only a matter of time before they surface. So, rather than avoiding these fears to protect children from the hard or scary things, why not help children to process these fears and work through them?

Rather than telling children who might be scared that “there is nothing to be afraid of,” why not talk to children about what they are worried about? We can begin to work through these fears with them, developing strategies for facing fears that they might inevitably encounter, and empower them to overcome.

They may learn that just like in ‘Inside Out,’ fear is not so bad and sometimes needed.


About the author

Cristin D. Herbort is a Child Life Specialist at Cook Children's. Our Child Life specialists work with kids and families to make their visit to the medical center easier and more comfortable. Child Life staff members recognize that hospitalized children still need opportunities to just be kids. They help children and families cope with a hospital experience by providing emotional and developmental support, giving honest information geared to the child's level of understanding and providing fun activities. 

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