I Taught My Daughter to Fear

I taught my daughter to fear


I. hate. grasshoppers.

They have those big, bulgy eyes and they always wait until the last millisecond to hop away from you and…just…ugh.

Spiders? Unless they’re huge or venomous, not a big deal.

Snakes? Meh. (see the note on spiders).

But grasshoppers? They send me running back inside. Or at least give me an excuse to avoid yard work.

However, my daughter spent all summer catching them out in the woodpile, much to my chagrin.

Until last week.

I was fiddling around in the garage, and suddenly I heard this unearthly scream. Followed by, “Mama! Mama!”

And then, the words that made my heart drop.


I turned the corner and Chicka Chicka was frozen, with her bare foot at a funny angle.

My first horrible, terrible thought was ” She has stepped on a grasshopper with bare feet.”

Then I saw her shorts.

Apparently a grasshopper had hopped itself right onto her shorts and she panicked. Which, I can’t say I blame her.

I helped her brush it off (ew) and we went on with our day.

But something struck me.

I had taught my daughter to fear grasshoppers. 

I had never told her to be afraid of grasshoppers, and yet she went from delight in catching them to being terrified when one jumped on her.

What had changed?

She saw my fear. She saw the way my nose wrinkled every time I had to walk through the unmowed back lawn. She heard every time I said, “O I hate grasshoppers.”

Until she feared them herself. 

Now, here’s the point I’m trying to make: I accidentally taught my daughter to fear something. Granted, something kind of silly that hopefully will fade, or maybe just be a quirky thing about her.

But imagine what else I might be accidentally teaching her.

What about every time I sigh a little when I look in the mirror, or when I try to explain why I wear makeup? 

What about when I am having a bad day, and grab a huge Dr. Pepper because “Momma needs it?”

What about when I shy away from doing certain things or reaching my goals because it might be too hard or uncomfortable? 

What is she learning then?

I certainly don’t want to pass on my insecurities to my children. I want them to know that they have so many positive attributes and great capacity to make this world a better place (as I hope most parents desire as well).

But to do that, I think we all need to reflect on if what we want our children to learn aligns with what we are passively teaching them.

We can’t act one way and expect them to learn the opposite. 

Luckily, there are so many opportunities to influence our children. Much in the same way I accidentally taught Chicka Chicka to fear grasshoppers, I can also teach her things like:

  • We are a family and we work together to run the house.
  • We need to speak kind words, even when we disagree.
  • Always do your best.

But this time, it won’t be on accident.

Teaching When You’re Not a Teacher: Meltdowns

Teaching Special Needs Meltdowns

Does this post need more of a title?

Children can have irrational reactions to just about anything.

I think I’d be getting your hopes up if I said that I could teach you how to keep kids from having meltdowns.

I’m not some mystical child-whisperer. 

However, I can teach you some strategies for working through meltdowns when you a) don’t know the child super well, and/or b)you are in a small group setting and can’t devote 20 minutes to working through emotions.

Know the Child

This is where you have to do some leg work by talking to the child’s parents and, possibly, some trial-and-error.

  1. Does the child crave contact (cuddles, sitting on lap, etc.), or do they want to be left alone when they are upset?

It’s fascinating to me that children that have the same autism diagnosis can respond to touch in completely different ways. Some seek it, some abhore it, and others try to push you away but they actually do want physical contact.

*I think it goes without saying that if a particular child does respond well to physical contact, you need to talk to the parents and find out what they do and what they are comfortable with. *

2) Is the child able to be distracted from big feelings? If so, what does the trick?

This may be a phrase, it may be an activity (like coloring), or it may be something sensory like a squishy ball, a beloved stuffed animal, etc.

Just keep this info in your back pocket. You never know when you might need it.

3) Are there any triggers to avoid and/or things I need to know?

Some children may have fears or anxieties about everyday things and events we don’t even think about. Think bees (every time they are in grass), or electricity, or plumbing. Or there may be stressors at home such as divorce or a new sibling that can most definitely affect their behavior.

Taking a few minutes to talk to a child’s parents can make a world of difference and avoid unnecessary, unpleasant situations. Plus, it shows the parents that you care. 

Give Choices

When a child is melting down and you really don’t have the time or space to let them cry, or talk about it, etc., you can give a child choices.

I recommend only two choices, since his/her decision-making skills will undoubtedly diminish during these big feelings.

The choices need to encourage positive behavior without rewarding negative behavior.

Let me say that again: The choices need to encourage positive behavior without rewarding negative behavior. 

Rather than offer bribes of treats or special privileges if they calm down, offer them choices for how they calm down.

For the youngest kids, I use the “power of 5” strategies.

Yes, I made that up all by myself. So don’t google it, it’ll just lead you right back here. 

The “power of 5” strategies are:

  1. take 5 big breaths
  2. Take a 5-minute cool-off (basically a time-out but it’s not a punishment, it’s an opportunity)
  3. Count to 5 (or 10 or 15, depending on the child’s abilities)

Obviously, you can adjust these as necessary.

But the point is you are offering choices that allow them to calm down and re-enter the situation/group without rewarding the meltdown.

Be Gentle but Firm

It is completely acceptable to validate a child’s feelings, even mid-meltdown.

Technically, it goes beyond acceptable and I fully encourage it. 

I think it can even be harmful to dismiss a child’s emotions, however irrational they may appear to you.

When a child is having a meltdown, squat/sit down so you are eye-level with them, and say:

“I can tell you are mad (or sad, or frustrated, etc.). It is no fun to be mad. Let’s choose a way to feel happy again. You can choose _____ or _______.”

Personally, when in a small group situation, or one where time is limited, I do not acknowledge why they are feeling so upset. That often causes a resurgence of crying and sobbing- not exactly what you want. If you feel a discussion is in order, you can mention it to the parents or talk about it with the child at a later time (when they are calm).

Being gentle but firm is a good balance. You are not a pushover, but you also are not “laying down the law.” You show you understand why a child is upset, but offer healthy ways to deal with those emotions.

So there you have it! I hope this series has encouraged those of you who find yourselves teaching or interacting with children.

Final note: If you would like more posts about dealing with emotions, check them out here and here and here.

Do you have any questions or comments for dealing with meltdowns? I would love to hear them!