My daughter, who is almost four, has had a fear of black people since she was a baby. I first became aware of this when she was about nine months old and my wonderful black African hairdresser walked into the house and my daughter started screaming.
I was surprised, as this wasn’t a normal reaction, and I didn’t realise it had anything to do with her colour at the time. It became obvious later on, when she started to cry every time she saw a black person, including a friend’s boy friend, who we happened to go on holiday with. The whole time, my daughter was very wary of him. By the time she got to the age of three and was still terrified every time our hairdresser came to cut our hair, I realised it was time to take some action. We live in a very white town where few black people live, so there wasn’t much opportunity to work with this issue. Meanwhile, I learned one of the Parenting by Connection ways of helping children with fears.
I suggested to my daughter that the next time my hairdresser came to cut my hair she could also cut her hair. She said, “OK, maybe,” but she also said that she didn’t like Sheena, which she has said many times before. I also did some role-playing, using her dolls around being scared of black people.
My daughter was fine until the moment the doorbell rang, and then she hid in the
corner of the room and cowered in fear. I went to let Sheena in whilst my daughter stayed with her Dad. When my daughter heard her enter the house she started to cry and immediately went upstairs to get away. I asked her Dad to keep setting the limit with her, saying, “OK, let’s go down stairs and say hello to Sheena now,” and then to listen to her feelings, but not forcing her to come down. Helping children with fears this way allows them to feel and share their feelings while at the same time they are truly safe.
Whilst I was having my haircut downstairs, I could hear my daughter screaming and crying on and off. When my hair had been cut, I went upstairs to see her. She had spent the whole time crying in her Daddy’s arms with her Daddy encouraging her to come downstairs and say hello, and then listening to her cry, and warmly reassuring her that she was safe and that Sheena is a lovely person and nothing bad was going to happen.
I asked my daughter if she wanted to come down and say goodbye to Sheena because she was about to leave. She said she wanted to. She came downstairs and Sheena was very friendly and playful with her. Although my daughter was trembling a little, she interacted with Sheena, and it was very sweet. They were talking about what my daughter was going to be cooking in her play kitchen, and she told Sheena she would make her some food next time she came round. They also talked about her new doll that she had got for Christmas. This went on for a few minutes before Sheena had to leave.
Once she had left, my daughter said that she liked Sheena, and then she said that she loved Sheena and began to plan for the next time she came round. She said she would stay downstairs the whole time whilst Sheena was here and play with her.
I was so happy, because this had been an issue for so long and by using the Hand In Hand tool of Staylistening, which is simply listening to a child’s feelings rather than distracting her or trying other ways of getting her to stop crying. It allowed my daughter to move through her fear and feel brave enough to come downstairs and interact with someone who she had been very scared of for a long time. My daughter was totally elated after this incident and felt great! And I’m really looking forward to getting my hair cut again!
– Stephanie Parker is a Mom in England.