Fear: To Face or To Flee

Posted by Jeff Tucker, Boys Town Press Author and National Certified School Counselor on May 18th 2023

Most people don’t have positive associations with the word fear. This is completely understandable. Feeling scared to your core isn’t exactly a pleasant experience.

While not necessarily enjoyable, there’s a case to be made in defense of fear. Fear is the body’s way of trying to stay safe – both physically and emotionally. Certain fears (snakes, spiders, or heights, for example) are fairly common because they potentially put our bodies in danger. Other fears, such as public speaking, are common because they make us feel socially and emotionally vulnerable.

Blond child afraid of dark

Fears are especially common among children. Oftentimes, many of their phobias slowly go away as they mature. For example, most outgrow the fear of monsters under their bed. But certain other worries, such as the fear of social rejection, can increase in intensity and be harder to overcome.

Regardless of the specific fear, the choice of whether or not to face it can be determined by answering a few simple questions:

  • Does this fear prevent me from being the best version of myself?
  • Does this fear keep me from doing things that matter to me?
  • Does this fear hurt my overall well-being and health?

If the answer to these questions is no, it may not be worth the effort or energy to deal with it. After all, a fear of clowns is not likely to come up much if you don’t work at a circus. If the answer to any of these questions is yes, however, the fear should be faced.

So, what’s the best way to face a fear?

Research has shown time and again that the best method is exposure. In the words of Robert Frost, “the only way out is through.” When a fear prevents us from showing up in life and being our best selves, it’s something we need to confront. We have to lean into the inevitable discomfort. While being outside one’s comfort zone is scary, that is the space where the most growth occurs. This is just as true for our kids as it is for us.

Exposure need not be overwhelming – in fact, in the beginning it’s better if it’s not. While a fear can be faced all at once, sometimes it’s best to do it gradually, building on small successes. For example, perhaps you have a child who’s afraid of the dark and insists on sleeping with all the lights on. You might begin by letting them sleep with just a bedside lamp on for a few nights. Once they become more comfortable with this, the next step can be dimming the lamp light (if possible). From there, you could transition to a standard night light near the bed. By addressing the fear in small, manageable stages, your child’s anxiety doesn’t become too overwhelming and sleeping with only a night light becomes the new normal.

In my newest book, Vinnie the Brave, I explore one of the biggest worries kids experience at school – speaking up in class. But its message is universal and can help any child struggling to overcome a fear. It’s my hope kids will see themselves in Vinnie, find inspiration from his courage, and be empowered to tackle their fears, not flee from them.

Vinnie the Brave is available for purchase now. It’s the newest addition in my Chicorée Elementary Stories for Success series, also available from Boys Town Press.