Friday, June 11, 2010

The Origins of Fear

Fear - an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger (Merriam-Webster)

How does one derive fear?  Are we born with fear? Do we learn fear from others? Do we learn fear from our own experience?

I would say that most fear probably comes from our experience. But what about little kids? Some of them are scared of things at an early age. Where do they learn that?

In my dealings with animals it seems that they are born with fear. Many of them rely on fear to keep them aware of predators. Fear fuels their fight or flight response. Some people might argue it is instinct not fear, and I might agree in some cases. I would also say that I have cornered many animals meaning them no harm in my life and seen something in their eyes that looked a lot like fear to me. Others may say that the fear is learned from their mother.  When a coyote comes along the mother deer runs.  The baby deer then runs as well. The baby deer is smart enough to follow mom even if she doesn't know why. Eventually the baby learns what to "fear".

I really don't know these answers, but I have always been intrigued by the genetics versus learned behavior question. My interest has even increased since becoming a Dad. Recently I've been thinking about that question as it applies to fear. I see some kids that are afraid of their own shadows. They are afraid of thunder, dogs, the dark, the water, the vacuum, the mail man, the frying pan, the toaster, the couch, and the toilet.

I see no such fear anywhere in my son. If the answer to my query is that you are born with a fear instinct then Braden must have just missed out completely.

We took him to the local water park a couple weeks ago for the first time.  He got in the kiddie pool and waded around. He played with the fountains. He splashed a little. The pool is 2 feet deep or less so I was having a hard time getting wet. Finally I just laid down in the water. Braden loved that. He laughed and smiled and tried to do the same.  The rest of the day Arica and I spent our time trying to keep Braden from purposefully going under water. If kids are supposed to learn fear Braden is missing out on that too. Each time he went under water he would come up gasping and coughing yet he would do it again a few minutes later.

Braden's teacher at his new school has told Arica recently that he scares her to death because he isn't afraid of anything. They have gymnastic like climbing mats in class. One of them is like a steep triangle shaped hill. Braden runs down this thing at great personal risk to his health.  At home he gets on the ottoman and jumps off like a crazy person.

So far I don't know of anything that scares this kid. No amount of knots on his head seem to deter his dare devil spirit either.

Braden may never know an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger, but he instills that emotion in his parents every day.


twistedxtian said...

A a kid fear wasn't an emotion I experienced too often. For me it was something that came with age. And as soon as I became a Dad, suddenly it is an emotion I have become too familiar with.

It's great to see little kids running around with no fear. It just turns their parents hair gray a little faster. :)

Otter Thomas said...

You are talking about when you were old enough to remember. Braden is only 19 months old. His teachers claim he is the most fearless kid they have. Everyone always says their kids are fearless, but I just can't explain how far beyond normal fearlessness Braden goes. None of the other kids I have seen even compare.

BellaDaddy said...

I busted out @ this: "...but he instills that emotion in his parents every day."

Kudos my friend!

Brandy said...

you are in trouble. Because he's just going to learn new skills and new tricks if the boo boos don't slow him down. He will be jumping off the house instead of the ottoman.

Eric said...

I have no concrete idea where they learn it from. Sure they can see a witch on TV and decide that it's actions and appearance are unpleasant. I guess the same goes with clowns.

But I look at my kids and I wonder if fear/no fear can be a genetic trait.

My 14 YO [step]son was afraid of roller coasters, heights (flying), and swimming. Was it because when he was younger his mother protected him from stuff like that and avoided such circumstances? Could be. She's afraid of water as well.

The kids we've had together? nothing seems to scare them in regards to physical adrenalin inducing activities. My 4YO wants to ride the roller coaster. She already has. My son wouldn't have ridden the kiddie one at 8 years old.

I could go on and I'll probably now write a blog about it.

Short answer stay on your toes with your cannonball..

Have a great weekend, sir.

PJ Mullen said...

As best as I can tell fear comes with the knowledge of experience. I was fearful for my son when I couldn't get any medicine in him to relieve his 104 degree fever the other night and I had to resort to things that mad it worse for him before it got better. Fear is definitely an interesting dynamic when it comes to kids.

Katherine said...

Oh, I swear our kids must be very much alike. I hear the same comments from our child care provider and experience the same emotion. Ethan is truly fearless....could care less. At the river the other day, he kept venturing deeper and deeper and sticking his face in the water!

And when we put his toddler bed together? He climbed right in it, laughed as he walked toward the edge, and dived off the side! And he purposely flings himself down the stairs because he thinks it's funny to see our reaction as we dive for him!

He's bound to bring us many heart stopping moments. The future with him scares me!

And things that make most kids his age cry don't phase him. He landed right on his face the other day as he was running down the drive....I ran over and said, "Ethan, are you okay?" He said, "Yeah." Got up and kept running. That one turned into a swollen bruise within hours. Right in the middle of his forehead.

I feel for you; I really do!

WeaselMomma said...

Don't sweat this. It's extra work to keep up with him, but is better than having to help a child who fears everything.
Life experience will catch up to his speed eventually, but you may still wind up with a little stuntman.

SurprisedMom said...

I got (more) gray hair just reading this post. Braden seems to be very, very fearless and I can understand why you and Arica are getting fearful. I wondered if it was a boy thing, but then I'm sure there are fearless girls out there, too. I don't know, nature vs nurture? How do kids become so fearless or fearful? I always hung back as a kid, but my Mom tells me when I was of the age I can't remember, I was pretty open and fearless. Hmmmmmmm.

Tom said...

Some kids sprout fear right away, as soon as they're able to express anything at all. My oldest daughter was nearly always afraid of something, from her earliest days. Might have been caught from her mom and me as we were fearful just to be brand new parents.

Her younger sister wasn't afraid of anything physical, and is to this day the risk taker of the family. Her fears arose when she reached three or so, fearing bad dreams and scary images on cartoons and such.

My son started out fearless pretty much, and as you describe Braden, he too didn't care about the bumps and bruises he received while exploring. Now at six he's afraid to get his feet dirty or hear loud noises or to witness anything remotely scary on TV.

I think there's some inborn fear, and some of it is either reinforced or diminished by their experiences. And there are other fears that are learned along the way. And some that can be caught by observation of your parents.

seashore subjects said...

Though I don't know how some fears develop, I do know that you have your hands full. And I have to agree with others, being fearless as a child is much better than being terrified of everything.

john cave osborne said...

well written, my friend.

one of our trio is fearless, as is our 8yo. i know what you mean about some animals relying on fear as a survival mechanism, but with humans? IMHO fear is not a good thing.

fearlessness, tempered with respect (as respect keeps our fearlessness in check with the proper amount of appreciation for what certain dangerous situations could do to us if we're not careful) is the way to be.

a wise an once told me something i remind myself of all the time whenever i'm feeling anxious or fearful:

fear always sides with that of which we are afraid.