People in uniform represent an unknown authority figure to kids; someone who commands and potentially punishes others. Police uniforms themselves are often designed to be intimidating. Even the noise that a uniform makes when a person walks or its various tools and accessories (particularly a gun) can frighten some kids. Those children who are afraid of mascots or people in costumes may be just as terrified by certain uniforms.
A fear of police may also arise in children who have been traumatized by seeing a parent arrested, which from a child’s perspective is one of the most frightening experiences they could ever endure. If this is the case, no simple fix will smooth things over. It’s an ongoing process of helping a child understand why their parent was arrested and a lifelong endeavor to rebuild trust in authority figures.
Helping children deal with and overcome a fear of people in uniform
- Don’t threaten young children with arrest for misbehavior. Kids should know that police don’t arrest children their age unless they were to do something really bad, like stab or seriously hurt someone or intentionally steal something from a store. But on the whole, police arrest adults, not misbehaving children.
- Talk about the function of the uniform and the various things on it. Explaining the different gadgets and gizmos will help kids understand that they have a specific purpose other than scaring them.
- Use pictures or storybooks to get children accustomed to the sight of police and firefighters. (See also: fear of firefighters in our online child safety book.)Talk about the helpful functions these people serve, and give them specifics. Don’t just say “they help people.” Say that “if there’s a fire in your house, they come to put it out” or “if someone were trying to get you, they would stop that person and rescue you.”
- Whenever you encounter such individuals in the world, try to talk to them yourself while holding a child’s hand. Simply saying hello or carrying on a brief conversation helps children see them as less scary.
- Play dress up with your kids to put on various uniforms, or go as such a character around Halloween.
- Use a little humor by asking kids to imagine what it would look like if they painted this uniform pink or attached a purple tutu.