Thursday, October 6, 2011

Never Let 'Em See You Sweat

I had a friend ask me to post about irrational fears and how to help your children to overcome them.

This was a tough one.  I asked my children to share a time when they were scared of something and how they overcame it.  Hmm....There was no good answer from any of them.  My kids are pretty fearless, but that's another topic in and of itself.  Everything has its goods and bads, doesn't it?

I had many fears as a child, but not as many as some around me.

When I was a pre-teen, I knew a family of all girls, and those girls were TERRIFIED of dogs.  The dog could be safely behind a fence and the girls would cower.  I finally asked their mother why all three girls were so afraid of dogs.  I was expecting an answer that one of them had been bitten and the others witnessed it, but she calmly said, "Well, I'm not sure, but I'm afraid of dogs too."

Aha!  Mother couldn't help the girls overcome their fear because she couldn't conquer her own fear to help them do it.

So, as a mother, are you fearful?  Do you show your children your fear?  Do they feed off of that?

Now, to the friend who requested this post, this is not her problem.  She is not one who feeds her children's fears with her own.  I honestly don't know the situation, but I know her, and this isn't how she operates.

I have a fear of the dentist.  Not crippling, but a fear nonetheless.  That dentist can be safely behind a fence, and I cower.  But, for my children, I go to the dentist.  I not only go to the dentist, I tell my children how much I love going to the dentist and how good my teeth feel after I go.  I talk it up all the way in and all the way out and for weeks after.

When my children first started going to the dentist, I found the best pediatric dentist I could find.  They LOVED going.  It was a party day...well, practically.  They'd count down the days until they could go again.

Because of insurance changes, my children no longer go to this dentist, but the older kids got a good start and are unafraid, so that feeling feeds down to the younger kids.  They all still look forward to going and continue to count down the days.

When I was a child, my mom didn't force me to deal with my fears.  She rescued me from them.  This was how she showed me she loved me, and I never doubted that she did, but because I never learned to face them and get over them I promised that I would never do that to or for my kids.  So, the trick is to help them face their fears in the most loving way possible.  They should never doubt that you love them even though you require hard things of them.

I think the first step in dealing with irrational fears is to sit down with your child at a calm time when the fear factor isn't around, and calmly, rationally discuss what is really scaring your child.  Maybe there were extenuating circumstances that brought this on.  Talk through it and make sure you tell the child that you, as his/her parent, would never put the child in a dangerous situation.  Ask what he/she feels is needed to help overcome the fear.  If it's a matter of going into a dark place in the house, maybe if the child was given the option of a flashlight or some other "crutch" for a little while until he/she sees that there really is nothing to be afraid of, but let your child come up with the solution; please note that that solution shouldn't include you doing any part of it unless it's to provide something--the flashlight, for instance.  He/she must do it for him/herself.  After he/she's made progress, celebrate with a big hug, a kiss and lots of words of praise; make a big deal of it.

I guess the point here is that when children are asked to overcome something for themselves, they should feel a sense of pride and satisfaction.  This should be looked at as an opportunity for empowerment for the child.  These experiences should make them stronger and better, and that is our role as parents--not to rescue and save.  When we rescue, we show them that yes, they should fear that thing and someone bigger and stronger will deal with it for them, but when we teach them how to do it for themselves, they are that bigger, stronger person who can deal with life for themselves.


Unknown said...

"when children are asked to overcome something for themselves, they should feel a sense of pride and satisfaction" - That is a Julie Hessism-- thanks Julie! I am going to send this to my husband to read too.

vaxhacker said...

I agree completely with this. It's hard for us as parents, sometimes anyway, to let our kids face difficulties without showing them the way out or even shielding them from suffering through them. Yet if we do that too much or at the wrong times, we rob them of a necessary growing opportunity.

It's weird, though, my kids exult over their enjoyment of activities that scare the bejeebers out of me. And yet I take other activities I enjoy for granted and have to catch myself in time to show compassion when they are afraid to do those same things.

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