Monday, 27 October 2014

Fear of the Dark - Children



ast week, I did a unit with my kids about “Fear of the Dark”

We began with a discussion of various types of fears typical to little people – snakes, spiders, being alone, creepy strangers, bullies and, of course, nighttime and how lots of people, both young and old, have a fear of the dark.

I related the story of a little girl in the martial arts who used to be fearful of turning off the lights and going to sleep. Eventually, she decided on her own that she had had enough. When it was time for bed, she walked firmly into her room, did her push ups and sit ups, practised her punches and kicks and then turned off the light and sat cross-legged on her bed, waiting.

“I’m ready to fight,” she said to the dark, breathing slowly and deeply, her fists at her side. After waiting for five minutes, she laughed and stretched out on the bed.

“And don’t think I’m not going to fight you just because you try to scare me when I’m asleep, coward.”

They appreciated that story. Then I followed with a little of my own experience, how I tried to help adults who had panic attacks in the early hours of the morning, afraid that they were drowning in the dark. Afterwards, we moved on to regular training – martial arts – so we can learn to become strong, look into people’s eyes, never give up…

But near the end of the class, I returned to the opening theme. The kids scurried to the sides of the mats, ready to wrestle.

“The lights are going to be turned off,” I advised them. “So anyone who is just a little concerned about the dark can stand by me and be my helper.” (In one class, a child came up and held my hand. A minute later, she joined the rest of the class because they were having too much fun).

 We turned the lights off, and they had a grand old time while I made sure that no one was going into hyper drive.

I asked them: “Are you afraid of the dark?”

“No!” they shouted back, insulted by the mere suggestion that they would ever be.



Every 20 seconds or so, I’d turn the lights back on, just to return to a calmer plane, and to make sure that the kids had enough safe space between them.

“Are you afraid of the dark? Do you ever give up?” “No!

This call and response continued for a few minutes more during which I also reminded them that fear is a part of life, and that they can try, if they wish, to change the way they face fear. Sometimes it may take a while, and they may need help. But I reminded them how strong they already were and how asking for help can make you even stronger.

I’m not a big fan of the “sink or swim” school. I try to nurture while along the way providing them with little challenges. We then build on the successes from those challenges, nurturing some more. What would ridiculing their fears prove, other than introducing them to the nightmares of daytime? Unfortunately, they’ll find plenty of that soon enough in their lives.

Scene from Bergman's Persona

“It is not that there is my vigilance in the night; in insomnia it is the night itself that watches”
- Emmanuel Levinas
Levinas describes looking into the darkness of his childhood room and finding the “anonymous rustling of existence”. On another note – and since we’re creeping toward Halloween - the following films offer some potent examples of night phobias, all by Ingmar Bergman…
The Hour of the Wolf – the night scenes wherein the artist suffers from a type of insomnia; the haunting images of the puppet performance to music from Mozart’s Magic Flute
Cries and Whispers – amazing night scenes where the cries of the sick sear the early hours of the morning; the muffled helplessness of bodies moving through the rooms to help
Persona– the haunting scenes where the actress moves from room to room to the distant sound of a foghorn

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