Today I’m adding to the “Is It Okay to ___?” series and focusing on a parenting issue.
My oldest son had a fear of the vacuum.
I say had because he’s no longer scared of it.
He’s no longer scared of it because I made him vacuum.
But it wasn’t a pretty sight. He was screaming. He was crying. He was trying to push the vacuum and cover his ears from the noise at the same time.
(Okay, I realize that at this point some of you are probably freaking out, picking up your phones to call the authorities and report my parenting. But hang with me.)
My son had an irrational fear of the vacuum that developed only recently.
He used to love vacuum cleaners. Like, lo-ove them. In fact, when he was 2, we took him to see Santa. That year Santa was located in a shopping center that housed an Oreck vacuum store. Immediately after seeing Santa, my son requested that we take him to the vacuum store. We did. He was thrilled. So thrilled that he said it was better than Santa. He sat next to the stand-up cardboard cut out of the Oreck vacuum guy and we took his picture. He liked that better than having his picture made with Santa, he said.
Fast forward nearly four years. Suddenly the sound of the vacuum bothers his ears and causes him to act as if the machine has turned into a live crocodile.
“That’s too bad,” I say. “Because you’ve made a mess with your paper and scissors. Looks like a confetti machine exploded in here. You need to clean it up.”
“It’s too much to clean up with my fingers.”
“Fine,” I said. “You can vacuum.”
Commence with the waterworks and the mini-freak out.
I plugged the vacuum in. I said, “Son, I’m going to turn the vacuum on now and you are going to push it and vacuum up the mess you made.”
I switched the vacuum on. He screamed. Screamed.
I turned the vacuum off. I took my son by the shoulders and told him under no uncertain terms, “You are not allowed to be afraid of the vacuum. It can’t hurt you and you made a mess. You must now clean it up.”
I let him go, switched the vacuum on and put the handle in his hand. He shot me a look that I could read clearly, but I let it go because he was screaming, trying to cover his ears, and pushing the vacuum all at the same time.
And I’m sorry, but the scene in my house was hysterical. I tried to stifle a smile & my laughter because I didn’t want to upset him further. He was livid. Red with rage, screaming, crying, and probably the most upset I’ve ever seen him. But the emotions fueled him which made him push the vacuum faster, which made him realize that the vacuum was doing what it is made to do– suck up the mess, not eat small children.
He cleaned up the mess.
When he was finished he calmed down immediately. He admitted that using the vacuum wasn’t so bad.
And then he asked me if he could please vacuum the rest of the house for a dollar.
I call that success.
And I’m willing to part with a dollar if it means my son has conquered an irrational fear and my floors are clean.
I don’t know that telling him he’s “not allowed” be afraid of something was the best move, but that’s what I said in the moment, and praise God, that worked.
I don’t make light of my children’s fears. I never have. But in this case, I knew that an irrational fear would do him more harm than facing it and realizing that he’s more powerful than his fear.
I know that there are all different kinds of parents and all different styles of parenting, and this was my call with this particular situation in the moment. In a different situation, facing a different fear, I might not have pushed him. I certainly wouldn’t have thrown him into the deep end of a pool if he were afraid of water, for example. (Thankfully, he’s not. Swims like a fish.)
But I’d like to hear from you. What do you think about children and fear, rational or irrational?
(Jeannie Campbell, I’m waiting for your comment, LMFT.)
Share with me: Have you ever had to make your child face a fear? What was your outcome? What techniques do you think are effective?