At one point in her life, my daughter used to be afraid of the phone. She would do just about anything to avoid having to use it. When it would ring and I would ask her to get it, she literally ran the receiver to me, and my daughter hates to run.

So I would worry about her. I talked to her about it and, of course, she started avoiding it even more. I watched one day as she painfully returned a call to a friend (after much prodding) and I cringed as I started thinking about what this might mean for her future. When I taught school, I met kids who were so socially inept it was hard to watch. High water pants? Check. Slumped shoulders? Check. Nose always in a weird book about warlocks? Check. Friends? Long pause …. “Oh, no!”, I thought. Is my daughter on the path to becoming a friendless antisocial Dungeons & Dragons aficionado who uses a rolling backpack and doesn’t look people in the eye as she speaks? What if she develops a limp, fishy handshake? Something must be done.

As soon as Hal walked through the door that night, I ambushed him. I started by telling him of the phone situation I noticed and went on to talk about those poor, unsociable teens and how I was afraid of what lies ahead for our sweet little girl. When I finished, Hal was gently smiling at me. The smile I now recognize as his “I’m about to drop a bomb on you and make you reevaluate everything about the way you’re handling this” smile. I hate that smile.

He nodded his head and said simply, “You’re projecting.”

Living with a therapist isn’t easy. It is ultimately very rewarding, but you must be prepared to have your innards exposed every now and again. Also, you have to learn to wade through the jargon. After he dropped the “projecting” bomb, he could tell by the look on my face that he’d need to try again and this time in plain English, not counselor-speak.

He began again, “OK, let me get this straight. At this moment in time, Hannah would rather not talk on the phone.”



“If she doesn’t get over this now and figure out a way to be confident, she will always struggle. I don’t want her to be scared to confront people or ask for things. I don’t want her to be…”

“Like you?”

Ouch. I suddenly realized that Hannah’s “phone phobia” was more about me than it was about her. Truth be told, I really don’t like talking on the phone. Never have. I don’t like that you can’t read people when you can’t see them. It has always been a real chore for me and I avoid it every bit as much as Hannah does. In fact, maybe the reason that I want her to answer the phone so often is so that I won’t have to.

I was blowing her reluctance totally out of proportion. I had been allowing my own fear of the phone and of the future to overshadow the great little girl that Hannah actually is. She adores animals. She’ll see a worm baking on the sidewalk and gently pick it up and place it back into the moist earth. She loves words. She has read each Harry Potter book at least four times and she blows me away at Scrabble. She loves nothing more than helping out in the church nursery each week and she has more imagination in her little finger than I have in my whole body. She is a great kid. Period.

I was focusing on one silly little thing that I was so anxious about and in doing so, I was making it all worse. All the old adages about self-fulfilling prophecy have been around a long time for good reason—they’re true. Hannah doesn’t even think twice about her “phobia” now, but if I keep pushing her, she’ll start to think that she has a problem, that something is wrong with her. The more I make out of her “issue” to our family and friends, the more of an issue it really will become. It will start to take on a life of its own…and what exactly will that do for her confidence?

As parents, we do our kids a disservice when we allow our fears to take over and let little things get blown out of proportion. Now this is not to say that we should ignore misbehavior or warning signs when it comes to our kids. Quite the contrary. Those things should be addressed; they just shouldn’t be anticipated. They should be dealt with; not dwelled upon. Being aware of your children and how they treat others and themselves is a vital part of being a good parent, but it is really easy to get carried away. At least it is for me.

So, when my kids are driving me crazy with one particular trait or tendency, what helps me is to look for a positive quality and nourish that instead. By playing to Hannah’s strengths instead of spending so much energy on her weaknesses, I get to know her better and in turn, she develops more and more confidence.

But ultimately, besides that, the best thing I could do would be to deal with what was really bothering me in the first place. My own social awkwardness. Maybe instead of hounding Hannah and pushing her to be more bold and confident, I could try that advice myself and see what happens. So the next time the phone rings, I’m going to get it and let Hannah off the hook, so to speak.

I’m happy to report that since the writing of this article, Hannah has turned a corner in her phone habits and is even asking when she gets to have her own cell phone. Hopefully I can learn something here or else you may be reading another article about my fear that she spends too much time on the phone.

Author's Bio: 

Jenny Runkel is the co-founder of ScreamFree Living and serves as Director of Content. For more information about living ScreamFree and the National Bestseller ScreamFree Parenting, visit