Changing the Cycle of Fear for Our Children
In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure. –Bill Cosby
My children enjoy a great deal of freedom. When I was child, we also had freedom. It was OK to take a bus alone, walk slowly to a friend’s house exploring along the way, and even **gasp** speak to some to strangers. But as my childhood progressed, I saw a slow weakening of trust in people. I remember palpably feeling distrust take over my parents when a made-for-TV movie came on about a child kidnapped or murdered. It felt as if it was actually the intended purpose of the show to instill fear.
Flash forward to the present and almost every news story is encouraging fear. All the recent shootings and violence throughout the US keep us scared, worried, and in a constant state of reacting to things through emotion alone. The thing that most people do not realize, what I didn’t realize for a long time, is that through fear we are easier to control. We also lose who we were meant to be, and we do not follow the life path we were on as children.
When we hold onto fear or instill it in our children, it fundamentally changes who we are, who they are.
Most parents I know, me included sometimes, use fear to control our children. Usually it is in the name of safety, but a lot of times, it stretches far beyond safety and more towards just getting our children to do what we want. It works..sometimes…in the short term! But is it worth it? Is it worth scaring our children, making them fearful, and capable of being controlled through their emotions?
I don’t think that it is. My youngest 2 sons have always been daredevils, scaring people where ever we go. And I am sure some people look at my reaction to the things they do and wonder where I am, why I am not yelling at them, demanding they stop doing x, y and z, and to be more careful. I understand this mentality and sometimes I am gritting my teeth and holding my proverbial tongue because, as a mom, I am petrified and do not want anything bad to happen to them….EVER!
But just when I am about to yell,” be careful”, I think, what is worse, a broken arm or a crushed spirit? Is it worse overall for their lives to have a cut that needs stitches or to be crippled by fear? A concussion or the feeling that your parents do not believe in you and so the belief in yourself wanes?
In my opinion, the latter of each is far worse, especially in the long run. I do not want my children’s actions to be controlled by fear..EVER! For when they allow themselves to be controlled by fear anyone can control them, push them towards unhappy choices, and throw them off the path they were destined to be on. A cut heals, a broken arm sets and bruises fade, but it is nearly impossible to reverse those fearful thoughts and images that we are conditioned to accept during out childhood as reality.
Is it my job to keep them safe? Of course it is, and I do that to the best of my ability without taking away the person that they are. One son has broken his arm and needed stitches twice, and one son has had a concussion. I think that is standard fare for three boys over the span 13 years. Just because we can picture the next bad thing that could happen does NOT mean that it will happen. Most people would be shocked that we let our 13-year-old take a bus alone, or let our 9-year-old walk down the street to the store in a foreign country, or let our 5-year-old climb pretty much anything, but nothing bad has happened.
Now, you are thinking that just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it won’t! I get that, and I think that at times as well. Remember I, too, was conditioned to accept fear as part of my reality when I was a child. But in the long run my boys feel confident and proud of themselves where a lot of children have replaced those things with fear and low self-esteem.
We need to trust our children and give them the freedom to find their own successes and to learn from their own failures. It is possibly the hardest part of parenting but I believe one of the most imperative gifts we can give. It can be hard in this world to separate real dangers from imagined ones, but when you make the change you and your children will prosper.
Our conditioning to this fear based mentality coupled with the realization that we are passing it on to our children is a perfect example of why we have to stop the cycle.
So what can we do to stop the cycle of fear?
- For starters, be aware of how much you are controlling your child. It is their life, and they have a right to be in control of it far more than is the cultural norm of today.
- Next, get your own emotions and fears in check. Whatever it takes, let go of the fear and stop making irrational decisions based on emotions.
- When your child asks you to do something that immediately makes you see danger signs, STOP! And think through what the real concerns are. Is it a real danger? Are others doing it and surviving?
- Trust your child to make good decisions. I find children are far more capable if we let them live and learn on their own. They know their capabilities better than we do in most instances.
- Start small, each week let them do something you used to immediately say no to. Your comfort level will rise and so will their confidence.
Breaking the cycle of fear is possible. Breaking the cycle of fear is necessary! Guide them, but let them cook, let them climb, let them jump, and let them explore and you will see the changes starting. The change has to start with you, the parent – but they end with a confident child!
This article first appeared on Bohemian Travelers family travel blog.
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