I just overheard a couple of kids wondering if there is a “Friday the 13th" this month. Does the thought of that send shivers down your spine? Not me! I’m not a particularly superstitious person. I don’t toss salt over my shoulder, or avoid cracks in the sidewalk. Black cats and broken mirrors don’t scare me and I never have the urge to ‘knock on wood’. Although, I must admit that I do occasionally wonder if I should be hedging my bets…just in case, so I am happy to report that there is no “Friday the 13th" until September of 2013!
In many ways superstitions, and the behaviors that accompany them, are harmless—simply giving us a sense of control over circumstances that, in reality, we may not really have much control at all. Some kids find superstitious behaviors fun. They enjoy avoiding the cracks, imagining a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow and searching for 4-leaf clovers. That being said, when taken to extremes, reinforcing a belief in superstitions might actually confuse your child, or scare her. This is because, if a child really believes that it is necessary to engage in the superstitious behavior, it can make her feel as if she doesn’t have any control over her own life.
Of course, it is important for kids to recognize that there are things in life (both positive and negative) that are out of our control. However, many aspects of life are affected, and can be changed, not by behaving superstitiously, but by working hard to achieve goals and by behaving morally and kindly. For example, perhaps you can explain to your child that stepping on cracks will not ‘break your mother’s back’, but if you don’t help her carry the groceries into the house, you might find that she has a backache! Or that opening an umbrella in the house may bring you bad luck only if doing so knocks over a lamp and your dad punishes you because he has asked you several times to be careful with that umbrella!
Kids can and should be taught that superstitious thoughts and behaviors will not alter the outcome of a situation. While it would be great to be able to rely on a pot of gold for income, or a horseshoe for good luck, this simply isn’t practical. What’s more, it won’t help your child grow emotionally. Rather, your child can learn to be optimistic and become empowered when he realizes that he actually has more control over his life than just hoping for the best! He is more likely to be successful when he learns that studying for a test—not carrying a lucky rabbit’s foot—will bring a good grade. In fact, kids are more likely to become inoculated against depression and anxiety when they see that there are many aspects of their life over which they do have control.
As you can probably see by now, a little superstition doesn’t hurt anyone. However, it is important to teach your child that superstitions, and the behaviors they often evoke, are not the key factors in life’s successes and failures. But still…maybe I’ll stay home and avoid black cats and ladders on Friday the 13th.
Dr. Susan Bartell is America’s #1 Family Psychologist. Her latest parenting book is The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask. You can learn more about her at www.drsusanbartell.com.