When PBS aired a special on Fred Rogers some time after his death, they played a clip of him talking about things children are afraid of, and how easy it is for adults to forget that kids fear simple things, like getting a haircut, or taking a bath.
On a recent trip to the beach, my three year old cousin, Ayden, felt cowed by the size of the ocean. His father, who, as I recall, has loved few things more that the ocean since childhood, kept urging him to come and swim. Ayden replied that he liked little water, not big water.
He seemed particularly distressed by salt water getting into his eyes, which stings a bit to be sure, and by the prospect of getting knocked down by waves as tall as he was.
The Nurse seemed to know just what was needed. Working with sick kids in a pediatric ER, he is no doubt better acquainted than most with the nature of childhood fears. Ayden needed to be told, and shown, some simple things: If water gets in your eyes, just rub them a little to clear it out. If someone bigger is holding you, the waves won’t knock you over.
It’s easy to get frustrated with these fears when they surface in children, or in ourselves, to dismiss them as irritating and irrational. But they are not; fear kept Ayden from wandering into water that was too deep for him to handle.
As adults, we are asked to venture into big water all the time. The same fear that keeps us from getting in over our heads has the power to keep us playing around in little water our whole lives. Sometimes we need to have patience with the child self, to tell it simple things, to guide it gently towards bigger water.