High River United Church of High River, Alberta


Playing with Fear - the Gift of Hallowe'en & other play

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Time to play with separation & fears!


The world is a scary place, whether you are two years old looking up and out at all these things that are bigger than you and out of your control….. or you are 52 or 72 or 92 listening to the news or facing challenges among friends and family.   It does not take much to stir up fear, alarm and anxiety in our lives.  We get a daily dose and somehow have to find our way through.  Having 24/7 news accessible online does nothing to help our alarm levels.  So what are we to do?


I think one of the reasons that addictions to fentanyl and other opioids are on the rise, alongside other additions to alcohol, shopping, hoarding, etc. is because of the amount of alarm in our society, and no perceived way of dealing with that alarm. Many become addicted to things that numb out our alarm just to survive. We have no control over what the President of the United States says or does.  We have some control over our own health, but still feel at a loss in the face of a big health challenge.   We are at the whims of the economy. Tragedies happen in our lives.  If we feel fear because we have no control over so many things in our lives, imagine what our children feel.


Saying, “Don’t be afraid!”  or “Don’t be silly, that won’t hurt you!” is not going to help.  I would never want someone to tell me “don’t be silly” when I’m feeling a great deal of fear over something.  Okay, I’ll admit it.  I’m afraid of bats.  It’s a long story.  But when I see a bat, I feel it in my gut. Fear clutches me.  If someone said, “Don’t be silly; bats can’t hurt you!” that would not take away my fear, it would only hurt me that the person saying it couldn’t understand my fear.  It’s the same with children.  They can’t just stop being afraid.  It isn’t silly – it is very real to them.


Now, before I have you in a high state of fear & anxiety, there is something we can do with our fears.  We may not have control over and the ability to change things that are making us afraid. BUT what we can do is express our fears – and play with them.   Emotions need to move – and once they move, we are freed to adapt and be creative.  So here goes…. playing with fears.


First of all, this is what I think Hallowe’en is all about.  Kids dress up either in scary costumes or in costumes that make them feel powerful.  Either way, they are playing with their fears, and feeling in control.  I celebrate the gift of Hallowe’en because it is an opportunity to put all of our fears on display and to have fun and be in control of them. In play, we are in charge.  When a child is playing, they are in charge.  This allows them (& us) to face a fear head on and gain some confidence in dealing with it.  That’s why Hallowe’en is so great.


If we notice our child afraid of something, such as spiders or cracks in a sidewalk or water or monsters under the bed, we can look for ways to bring these into play.  However, it must be done in a way that doesn’t cause more fear for the child. 


If a child is afraid of the cracks in the sidewalk, truly afraid, and makes sure not to step on any, you don’t have to know why they are afraid.  They won’t be able to logically give you an answer.  Most of our fears are not really logical. Join your child in stepping over the cracks, and then carefully and gently add an element of play.  Can we take giant steps over the cracks?  Can we take baby steps over them?  Can we leap or fly?  The playful element gives control over the cracks and over the fear.


Or if your child is afraid of entering into water, depending upon the amount of fear, you might start with playing with a spoon in a glass of water, or in a sink full of water.  Gauge where your child is at.  This is play so let them be in control of how fast this moves.  But playing with water & having fun gives them control over it.


Monsters under the bed?  Play at being the monsters in the daylight.  How would the monsters walk? How would they talk? What would they wear?  Might they be afraid of a flashlight – well take a flashlight to bed, and then have fun making finger shadows.  Or have your child be the monster and chase you until you both end up giggling together.


Spiders?  You might add funny hats or glasses to drawings of spiders.  You might create them out of play-dough and then squash them.  You might study a spider’s web and be amazed at the beauty, and create your own out of wool. 


When playing with fears, go slow.  Let the child set the pace.  They may only want to watch.  If it is too much, back off and look for another way to bring some playfulness into the thing that is causing fear.  But always, always, see the fear as real.


As I mentioned, fear of separation is one of our greatest fears --fear of being separated from those we love the most and to whom we are most attached That’s why we play Hide & Seek.  Remember – you must always find the child if they are hiding, and they must always be able to find you.   This is play, not a competition.  Peek-a-boo is playing with separation as well.


Fear finds us in life!  If we can play with it, gently, we can disarm it for us and for our children.

We can play with it – and we can pray it.


The Psalms & other scriptures aren’t afraid to address the fear and separation we feel.

 Isaiah 41:10

Do not fear for I am with you.

Do not be afraid for I am your God.

I will strengthen you. I will help you.

I will hold you up with my strong arms.     


Psalm 22:1 – 2   

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day and you do not answer; and by night but find no rest. 


Psalm 27:1 

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?


Repeating these words of scripture might help us as adults. Mostly these words of scripture tell us that fear is normal for human beings.  We will be afraid.  But when we are afraid, being told, “Don’t be afraid!” doesn’t help.  It isn’t about logic or words. 


What we need are big loving arms wrapped around us, enfolding us in a big hug.  That’s what we need to do for our children and grandchildren.  Hold them when they are afraid – and love them just as they are.  When we are afraid, we need a physical reminder that we are not alone! That’s what a hug is for!


Fears & separation – we gently play them. And we pray them!

October 26, 2017                                ©Susan Lukey 2017

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