Almost seven years of running the Farmstay, and a lifetime of living on a farm gives Farmer Ken and I a fair bit of exposure to folk that have a real fear of animals. Many folk come to the Farmstay because their children (or themselves, and this is often where the kiddies get their fear from), have Zoophobia. Many more come because they have a passion for animals, or they wish to educate and expose their family to more animals.
Here are some suggestions that we find really work to overcome this often unreasonable fear.
1) Please don’t reinforce the fear by using the words – “scared” – “frightened” – “won’t try to do that”, ect. All this negative reinforcement just convinces the child/adult even more that there is something that they need to be frightened of!
2) Don’t force your child to come closer to any animal than they are comfortable with. This achieves absolutely nothing. Stay back and encourage them, but don’t say “see, there is nothing to be frightened of”, etc Let them watch with you being supportive and strong. As they watch us and other guests being comfortable and safe, most times this is enough to overcome the fear. Don’t ever laugh at your child for being scared, gently support them and encourage them to reach out (even if it’s just towards the animal) and just touch the animal.
3) If Ken or I encourage the kiddies to come with us, and they are willing to, please let them. We know our animals very well. Of course all animals can have a element of danger, but we know our animals very well and have encouraged lots of children and adults to overcome their fear. Mostly when animals are dangerous it is because they have a reason to feel fear themselves. I can only recall 2 guests over the last 7 years that by the time they had left the farm the fear had not been overcome.
It is very important that none of our animals are treated roughly in any way. eg, a dog that is having its fur pulled is likely to bite, it has no other way to protect itself. A horse that is frightened, or hurt will most likely kick out or bite, ect. Never allow your child to go near any dog anywhere when it is eating! Never go amongst a group horses when they are eating. Never chase any animal away from it’s food. It really just boils down to respect for animals.
Occasionally I will request that a parent takes their child further away, maybe out through the gate, if a child is crying loudly or misbehaving. I apologise for this, but the negative energy this creates around animals is not a good thing. It is also not pleasant for other guests or me trying to take part in activities. Usually the kiddie decides it is better to stop the noise rather than miss out on the fun! Don’t take them completely away and rouse on them, they will work out, (just like a animal does in most cases) that the behavior did not have a positive outcome.
Hoping these very basic observations help you, and your family that may have a fear of animals, have a safe and pleasant experience with our animals and on our farm.
Elaine & Farmer Ken.