Outcome Offered

■ Skills in fear management

Fred was a mouse who lived in a hole in the wall in the corner of the house. Each morning when he awoke he found himself looking forward to his toasted cheese sandwiches for breakfast—in fact, some mornings more than others, because sometimes the nights before had been scarier than others. You see, Fred Mouse was afraid of the dark.

He knew he wasn't alone in being afraid. Other mice were scared of dogs and cats. He had heard that sometimes people were scared of spiders and snakes, or even funny things like standing on cracks in the pavement. For Fred it was the dark. When he went to bed at night and Mommy Mouse turned off the light, he began to get frightened. She would leave on the hallway light to help reassure him, but somehow that seemed to make things worse. It cast shadows across the door and walls. They seemed to change, as though something or someone was lurking in the dark.

When he was younger he used to hop into bed with Mom and Dad if he was scared, feeling the reassurance ofjust being close to somebody. Now, they told him, he was a big mouse and had to sleep in his own room by himself, like all good mice did when they started to grow up.

It was nice when Mom sat on his bedside and read him a story. Sometimes he would drift to sleep while she was reading, sometimes he would be able to think about the story and forget about the dark. But sometimes the thoughts of the dark would creep back into his mind and again he would start to feel scared.

One morning after eating his toasted cheese sandwiches for breakfast, Fred went looking for his friend, Philip Bear. "Are there times when you get frightened?" he asked Philip.

Philip thought for a while and said, "I certainly get frightened at times that the honey pot might be empty."

Fred didn't think it was quite the same thing, but he asked Philip, "When you are frightened, what do you do?"

"Well," answered Philip, "I go to check that there is honey in the pot. If there is, then I know I don't need to be frightened anymore."

Not sure he had got the answer he was looking for, Fred went searching for Tabby, the cat. "What do you do when you are frightened?" he asked Tabby.

"Well," replied Tabby, "like all cats, sometimes I get frightened of dogs. Some dogs can be friendly and don't really bother about wanting to hurt cats, but some dogs are not so friendly and, at those times, it is good to be scared. The fear gives me the energy to run away and protect myself. I think it's a matter of learning to tell the difference between what you need to be frightened of and what you don't.

"You see," continued Tabby, "you can come and talk to me, so already you know how to overcome the fear that mice usually have of all cats. You have learned that I am a friendly cat and there is no need to be afraid if the situation is safe. But it might be a good thing to be afraid of other cats who see mice as a meal rather than as friends."

Fred hadn't thought about it that way, but he felt more confident when Tabby told him that there are some fears he had already been able to overcome.

Next he sought out his friend, Tom, who was sitting at the table eating breakfast—as little boys are prone to do at breakfast time. He asked Tom, "What do you do when you are frightened?"

"Sometimes I get frightened if Mom shouts at me," said Tom. "Not that she shouts very often, which is probably why I get frightened when she does. I guess I know she won't be angry forever and because she's not, I won't be frightened forever. So I tell myself that the feeling will go. Then I try to do something that feels nice, like give her a hug if she is feeling upset, or go outside and play for a while. Usually I come back feeling better."

When Fred went to bed that night it was with lots of thoughts in his mind about the conversations he'd had during the day. What could he learn from the things his friends did? Could he ask his mom to read him a story, to absorb his thoughts in some interesting tale? That had worked sometimes in the past. Could he check his room—like Philip did with his honey pot—to reassure himself there was no need to be afraid? Like Tabby, could he weigh up whether it was appropriate for him to be afraid? Was there any real risk? If there was, what could he do about it? If there wasn't, how could he relax and drift into a comfortable sleep? Could he do what Tom did, and remind himself that feelings like fear will pass and won't stay around forever?

What do you think he did? Whose advice did he follow? Did he do some of these things or all of these things? Or did he perhaps think of other things that he might be able to do himself? Whatever he did, I do know that it was possible for Fred to snuggle up at night in the hole in the wall in the corner of the house and sleep a comfortable, rested sleep.

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