Don’t Talk About Scary Stuff … Right?

Dear Mamas,
I have two boys, 4 and 7. My friend recently bought the book, The Runaway Bunny, for the younger one’s birthday. She keeps asking how he likes it but to tell the truth I haven’t read it to him. It’s about a bunny who tells his mother over and over again that he is going to run away. I think it will put ideas in his head. Neither of my kids have ever wanted to run away and I don’t want them to start thinking about that. She thinks it’s so great but I just don’t get it.



Dear Marianne,

Thanks for a great question! It really opens the door, if you will, to all the ways we fight the idea that one day our children will want to leave the nest. It’s a hard thing to think about, I know, especially when they are very small. But one day they will be going out that door, if we have done our job right. Not in anger, but with confidence and excitement.

In the meantime, it’s important to realize that every child, at one point or another, feels very angry with his parents and fantasizes about running away, whether he lets you know or not. Mixed up with that feeling of wanting to leave is a scary thought about whether mommy or daddy would still love him if he did. And would they be able to find him? Is it okay to be really, really mad at your mommy or daddy? So mad that you might run away?

I think that The Runaway Bunny* does an absolutely brilliant job of identifying these questions and concerns and meeting them with such tender love and unconditional reassurance. It is an immensely comforting tale about the steadfast love of a mother for her child and the lengths she is willing to go to keep him safe. My kids loved it and so did their dad and I. Here are the first few lines:

Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away.
So he said to his mother, “I am running away.”
“If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you.
For you are my little bunny.”

“If you run after me,” said the little bunny,
“I will become a fish in a trout stream
and I will swim away from you.”

“If you become a fish in a trout stream,” said his mother,
“I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.”

As the story goes on, each time the little bunny comes up with a new plan, his mommy explains that she will find him and bring him home. Even when he threatens to turn himself into a bird and fly far away, she says that she will become the tree where he can come home to.

Over and over again the bunny is reminded that there is nowhere his mommy won’t go to find him. All of his testing yields the same result: his mommy loves him, no matter what, and will always find him, no matter where he might try to hide. Then, once the drama is past, Mother Rabbit gives her bunny a snack, like mommies do, and they turn the corner together.

I’m with your friend on this one. My advice is to jump in and read this beautiful story to your little guys. When difficult subjects like this are broached and verbalized in such a realistic but fanciful way, it helps to reduce normal anxieties and reassure children that they are not alone with their fears. And with this particular story, the author meets these fears with compassion, fun, and ultimately, comfort and reassurance.

P.S. I would bet that before long, this may become one of your favorites, too! Since it was first published in 1942, it has never been out of print. That has to tell you something, right?

* The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown (author of Goodnight Moon and many others)


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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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