Rudy Socha - Special to - May 19, 2008 15:25 EST

As a parent, we want our children to spend time outdoors and learn about nature. But what happens when your child tells you they don't want to walk in the park because "the bears will eat me".

Should your child be afraid and how should you deal with your child's fear?

The real reality is that the total number of negative interactions between humans and apex predators has decreased significantly within the past 50 years. During this time the human population on the planet has more than doubled. Due to this human population explosion, the natural wildlife habitats and populations of poisonous reptiles, and almost all apex predators have decreased significantly. However, what has significantly increased during this time frame is the media reporting and nationwide coverage of almost every negative nature interaction. This increased media coverage provides the public with the perception that the attacks are occurring more often.

Child psychologists insist that explaining comparison risks such as telling your child that riding in an airplane or a being struck by lightning is far more dangerous is the wrong approach to take. It does not address their fear and can instill additional fears and make your child afraid of riding in a plane or being struck by lightning. The specific fear the child expressed is the fear that needs to be addressed.

So, how do you work with your child to address their fear?

Start by discovering the answers to the following questions.

What is the truth of their fear? Has there ever been a shark attack at this beach? Do dangerous sharks live in this area? If so, when do they feed? Are there any bears in this section of woods, etc.?

What new behavior do we need to develop in order to confront this fear? It could be as simple as having the child walk between two adults.

What beliefs block their desires and attempts to confronting their fear? Have they heard from friends that a lot of people have died walking in THOSE woods or swimming at THAT beach?

How willing are they to try out new behavior? If you show them that a certain area is safe, would they be willing to accompany you into the same area?

The overcoming fears tool box consists of: Handling irrational beliefs, self-affirmation, handling guilt and embarrassment, building trust, handling insecurity, letting go, stress reduction, spirituality, becoming a risk taker, and accepting change. Which of the "tools" available to overcome this fear would apply? Will saying a prayer work? How about addressing the embarrassment of others doing something they are afraid of?

What new beliefs do they need to confront their fear? This includes the most basic belief, that they will not be eaten. It should also include the self-confidence that they have been "trained" to deal with how to safely be in this section of the beach or woods.

Some other basic rules:

  1. Don't lie about the actual risks or dangers. Never tell children bears and sharks are not dangerous.
  2. Don't use this fear to correct other areas of bad behavior. An example would be telling your child "if you do not do what I told you, I will call a bear to come out of the woods and tell him to eat you". Yes, many parents actually do different variations of this, most popular one being "I'll get that policeman to arrest you".
  3. Don't further reduce their self-esteem. They are already feeling guilt and/or embarrassment because of their fear so don't make things worse.
  4. If as a parent you are unable to help your child, don't despair or give up, seek professional help. Call a licensed child psychologist and schedule an appointment for both you and your child.


Rudy Socha is CEO of, an Internet media company focused on the zoo and aquarium visitor.