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How to Prevent Children From Developing Phobias

Scared Straight — Protecting Kids From Our Phobias

Hannah Mayer is a nationally award-winning blogger, humor columnist, and exponentially blessed wife and mother of three. She would trade everything for 12 uninterrupted hours in a room with Jon Hamm and two Ambien. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, or her blog, sKIDmarks.

Everyone has something they're afraid of.

My sister sleeps with the light on to stave off potential clown attacks. One of my friends is terrified by large crowds and therefore "sick" every Mardi Gras. Another friend won't go in the ocean past his ankles lest he be attacked by a shark. Personally, the thought of a snake — ANY snake — makes my knees go weak and butt sweat profusely.

Although our phobias differ, the one thing we all have in common is that we try as hard as possible to push our crazy fears down deep to shield our kids, lest they become irrationally afraid of the same thing.

We try to push our crazy fears down deep to shield our kids, lest they become irrationally afraid of the same thing.

I don't have scientific proof that phobias are inherited, however, I can pretty much trace my intense snake phobia back to one afternoon when I was a little girl and went to visit my grandparents.

My grandma and grandpa lived in the country so I was used to the occasional run-in with wildlife. What I wasn't used to was my 4'11" tough-as-nails grandma bursting through the door screaming like a crazy person: "SNAKE! SNAAAAAAKE!!!!! GET THE DOG!" to my grandpa, who sprinted into their bedroom, grabbed his shotgun, and bolted outside as my grandma continued to unravel.

I then heard a string of gunshots, some new and interesting curse words, my grandpa scream like a girl, and another gunshot. I wondered if the snake had wrestled the gun away.

"Don't go out there!" my grandma warned, as if at that point that was even a remote possibility. I'm not saying my grandma was the reason for my snake phobia, but I don't recall being deathly afraid of snakes before that day. Further proof is my husband's similar inherited fear of spiders.

Incidentally, we make awesome hiking partners. I walk ahead with my web-catcher stick, him behind with the snake-shooer stick.

However, I'm now worried about my reptilian phobia because I want to stop the cycle of being snake-scared and not pass it on to my kids. Now that they're old enough and I can take them hiking by myself without the snake-shooer, I think about nothing but a snake popping out and latching onto my foot as we walk through the tall grass. I always told myself that I would remain calm when snake day came (and I knew it would), and a few weeks ago that theory was tested.

I was sitting on the back deck minding my own business when out of nowhere a pack of neighborhood kids came running around the corner of the house. They then excitedly informed me there was a snake in the window well, like this news wasn't going to give me an immediate heart attack. My worst fear was realized, and as much as I tried to keep it together, I felt myself coming completely unhinged. "GET THE DOG!" (we don't have a dog) my brain screamed as I ran into the bedroom searching for the shotgun (we also don't have a shotgun).

My worst fear was realized, and as much as I tried to keep it together, I felt myself coming completely unhinged.

"Just need to run in and . . . uh . . . shave my back real quick!" I yelled to the kids. "Be out later!"

"Mom, do you want to come see it?" my daughter yelled through the window. "It's SO cute!"

On the one hand, I was relieved that my phobia hadn't seemed to affect my kids thus far. On the other hand, I was moments away from peeing my pants as I hid inside.

"Uh, no thanks. But cool!"

Although I was fairly certain the snake was going to make its way into our sewer system and subsequently into my toilet, I was super proud of myself for keeping it (mostly) together in front of my kids. Phobias are a real thing, and I had somehow managed to rein it in.

I was just finished patting myself on the back when my daughter burst inside, crying and frantic. "What happened?" I asked, grabbing her by the shoulders. "Did the snake eat one of your friends?"

"No," she sobbed. "Worse. Much worse. There's a huge spider outside. Can you please come kill it? I'm terrified of those things."

Apparently my husband could use some work.

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