Yesterday when I wrote about my top five favorite clowns I brought up the somewhat romanticized fear of clowns that adults claim to have. I don’t know if I necessarily buy into the claims of the roughly fifty percent of the people I know who say clowns cause them distress. In my opinion I think it is more talk than fear. Fact of the matter is adult brains can conceptualize that under the paint and wig of a scary looking clown is a regular man or woman. While some folks in our population have serious phobias of such stimuli I don’t believe it applies to the legions of people who make the claim.
Kids are a whole different story, especially younger ones. At an early age children don’t instantly grasp that people dress up in wild and crazy outfits that transform appearance. Minds are still developing and when they see something that can walk and move like a human but that doesn’t look like mom or dad real fears develop. Many young kids have real issues with clowns. Many have issues during Halloween.
Because of one of the responsibilities I hold at work I am exposed first hand to another one of these types of fears that children hold: mascots.
Holding the distinction of mascot coordinator within Grizzly Athletics I routinely see how the most loved personality in the state of Montana can also be the most feared. While Monte, our grizzly bear mascot, has reached rock star status on a national level for his ability to entertain and connect with fans even his one of a kind charm is sometimes not enough to calm the fears of petrified children. At most events or basketball games you can expect to see at least one child ranging in the age of 2-7 meltdown at the sight of him. Kids will cry, scream, run away, or bury themselves in their mom or dad. It doesn’t take a psychology degree to figure out why these young kids are frightened. Seeing an agile, walking bear that blurs the lines between an animal and a human can confuse a toddler to the point of tears.
Monte doesn’t get selected to the Capital One All-American Mascot team on a consistent basis just because he can entertain, dance, entertain, and tumble though. His ability to connect with children, adults, and the elderly sets him apart. More often than not I have seen him approach those frightened kids right on the spot and win them over. In the blink of an eye the shrieks turn to laughs and Monte and the kid are embracing.
Of course it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes the child is just not ready to enjoy a mascot and Monte lets him or her be. For some children it takes time to outgrow the fear. They will avoid and turn the other way when Monte is in proximity but then a couple years later the fear is gone and the kid, wearing a #00 jersey, is rushing at him to jump in his furry arms. But then there are the extreme cases…
Some youngsters develop a polarizing fear of Monte. Unfortunately that fear doesn’t just end at the arena when the bear is not around. Pictures, mentions, and thoughts of Monte can trigger fear simply when the child is at home or at school. This is when Grizzly Athletics intervenes. Twice since I have worked in the department parents have contacted me about their child suffering from a phobia of Monte. When this occurs I invite the parents and their son (both times it has been a boy) to come to the office and I turn it over to our amazing students who serve as Monte (we employ two talented individuals).
In a calm manner our Monte performer will greet the kid in his street clothes. He will then slowly take pieces of the Monte suit out of his bag and show the child that it is just a costume. Next he will start to put the suit on while talking to the child the whole way through. Once our performer puts the head on to complete the transformation into Monte the kid is no longer having a panic attack and the fear is gone. Both times I have observed this the parents walked out the door with tears of joy while thanking us profusely.
Back when I was very young, probably four years old, I had a bad dream involving McGruff the Crime Dog. After that nightmare I dreaded seeing him at the parades and festivals my parents would take me to where he would appear. After a year I grew out of it but even though I was very young at the time I can still remember what that fear felt like which allows me to identify with the kids today who are afraid of Monte.
Sorry to my adult friends who are afraid of clowns but I have more sympathy for the five year old girl who is afraid of Monte. Don’t Blink.