Childrearing

Smotherhood: My Scaredypants Son Is Literally Afraid Of His Pants

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My five-and-a-half-year-old son is — as SpongeBob would say — a scaredypants. I mean that literally: as in, he’s afraid of his pants.

Not all pants. But I recently bought some second-hand ones that happen to have a thick underwear-style waistband decorated with little storm clouds spitting lightning and looking angry. (At the time, my biggest reservation was the liberal use of pink in the waistband, a colour that causes him to break out in hives.) They’re not particularly fierce, as you might imagine, with pink cartoon frowny clouds.

Yet my son is terrified to wear them. In fact, he’s terrified even to have them in his dresser drawer. I thought he’d get over it, but each time I’ve brought them out again, gently suggesting he try them on, his terror appears to increase.

As a 41-year-old scaredycat myself, I’m fairly sympathetic and don’t wish to force the issue. I am pathologically averse to watching violence of any kind, real or fictitious. I’ve always hated scary movies — I’ve seen three “horror” movies in my life, in the process banking decades’ worth of mental footage to draw on for my regular and intensely vivid nightmares. When I was a child, I was petrified by the Abominable Snowman in the classic Rudolph Christmas special, and he’s just a bunch of cotton balls with some googly eyes glued on top.

So I’m the last person to enforce stereotypically “masculine” behaviour in my son; soccer dads who yell at their injured boys to “man up” make me want to kick them in the shin them to see if they cry. I want my son to feel comfortable expressing all emotions, even if he’ll quickly learn to hide some of them in public for sheer self-preservation’s sake.

But should it concern me that my son is panicked by the sight of rosy-hued cloud monsters? Or that he routinely allows himself to be chased around his much smaller 3-year-old sister, shrieking for me to protect him? Should I worry that he’ll soon be cringing in a corner of the schoolyard, terrorized by ferocious 6-year-old girls? And then there are the seeming paradoxes: His favourite iPad apps are Angry Birds and Zombies v. Plants, both of which are far scarier than his pants.

My husband and I have had many an argument over which movies and television shows constitute appropriate fare for our kids. Between us, I think, we’ve probably struck a reasonable balance.

But my kindergartner, reared mostly on commercial-free public-television standards, is now at the stage where he’s being exposed to stuff elsewhere that I would never show him at home: Scooby-Doo, for instance, or classic ’70s movies such as the original Star Wars trilogy. Personally I find Boba Fett just as scary now as I did at the age of ten, not to mention the 10,000-Volt Ghost.

More alarmingly, I’m finding that I can’t assume parents who appear like-minded shelter their own kids in similar ways. Recently, for instance, a friend who’s an otherwise lovely dad confided he’d made the mistake of letting his 5-year-old watch the Leprechaun horror movies. Poor kid has never looked at St. Patrick’s Day the same way since.

Ultimately, childhood is fleeting, so why push kids to absorb imagery they don’t yet want or know how to process? I’ll put the pants away for now, in the hope that in a couple of months my son might realize he has nothing to fear. Failing that, maybe his sister will be able to wear them…

(Photo: Hemera)