Are your kids afraid?
Afraid of the dark, afraid of nightmares, afraid of making new friends, afraid of me leaving them, afraid of the babysitter, afraid of death and so on.
For most of their lives I wished they wouldn’t be afraid. It was so painful to watch them struggle!
I tried to talk them out of it: “There are no monsters in the closet. The room is the same when the lights go out. You’ll find friends. I’ll be back tonight.You won’t die. It’s all going to be ok!”
I tried to convince them to not be afraid. I told them they shouldn’t be afraid.
As I did this, I communicated that fear is something to be afraid of. My actions and tone let them know that fear is a problem.
When a child understands from their parent that they shouldn’t be afraid, and they are afraid, this compounds the problem.
Now they are afraid of being afraid.
Think about the implications of that statement for a minute.
As an adult you know that fear can be good. Without fear, you might risk your life by climbing too high, being too close to the edge of a cliff, or driving too fast.
Fear protects you.
When fear is working properly it tells you when something is wrong.
You want your kids to know dangers and limits and they have to learn those by listening to their fears.
Teaching your children to be present with their fear allows them to know their own internal warning system. For example, it is good for them to be afraid of going in a swimming pool alone. That saves their lives. That is a rational fear that helps them survive.
Most parents want their kids to experience this rational type of fear because it helps protect their children, however what about the irrational fears your kids have? Why do you talk your kids out of those?
You are probably trying to protect them from feeling fear because fear feels uncomfortable, and you want your kids to feel good.
You don’t like to see them suffering for no reason.
Parents seem to agree that fear is ok if it saves kids from crossing a highway and getting hit by a car, but not ok if there are no monsters under the bed.
Parents are usually ok with rational fears that protect kids, and not ok with irrational fears that seem to serve no point.
Here’s the thing though: irrational fears don’t stop when you become an adult. They just become more sneaky.
Chances are you aren’t afraid of the dark or monsters under your bed, but you might be afraid that you are failing. That you aren’t enough. That something in your life has gone wrong.
Grownups don’t stop feeling irrational fears. The fears actually get sneakier and more irrational.
If you listen to your irrational fears, you give up and stop trying to achieve your goals!
Learning to feel afraid and take predetermined action anyways is the way to achieving anything in life. That is how you are creating your life right now.
If your kids do not know how to feel fear when their brains think irrational thoughts, it will hold them back in the future. Here’s why: most anything worth doing in life will require a negative emotion to achieve. If you have a goal, it takes courage, determination, commitment, and yes, fear, to achieve the goal.
Teaching kids to be afraid of fear sets them up for failure. Failure because they will not want to take the action required to achieve their dreams because the feeling they are required to feel as they take the action is too scary.
Fear of fear will stunt their growth and keep them from their dreams.
Your kids need to feel fear in order to live their best lives.
When you try to talk your kids out of feeling fear, you communicate that fear is bad.
Fear is not bad, it is an essential part of the process.
Stop trying to talk your kids out of feeling fear.
Start by recognizing that fear is not a problem. It is ok for your kids to have fears.
Even irrational ones.
Fear is nothing to be afraid of. It is just a feeling in the body.
Stop resisting and avoiding your kids fears and just start allowing them to feel fear. Be willing to let your kids be afraid. Not in a cruel way, but compassionately.
It looks like saying “You’re feeling afraid? It’s ok to be afraid. I feel afraid sometimes too. It’s part of being a human. When I feel afraid I feel tight in my stomach and hot in my chest. Where do you feel it?”
Stop being in a rush to solve their fear.
Just let them be afraid. Feel it with them. Empathize with them. Tell them about when you have felt afraid and what you did anyways.
Your kids are not broken and they do not need fixed.
Their brains are working exactly as they are supposed to. Even when they are afraid.
Teach them to listen to the feeling of fear, be present with it, and not be in a hurry to change it or react to it.
It doesn’t matter if it is rational or irrational. Stop trying to help your kids escape fear.
Teaching your kids to experience fear while recognizing their capacity to move through it with courage is a skill that will last throughout their lives.
I used to not want my kids to feel fear, now I’m all in on fear.
Bring it on.
It only prepares them for real life.
P.S. By the way, when I stop trying to change my kids fears, and just help them feel afraid, they usually solve the the problem themselves very quickly.
Once fear is normal and not a problem, they stop fixating on it and move on.
They feel fear and take action anyways.
That is worth watching them experience a negative emotion in order to see how confident they are on the other side!
P.S. Read about worry and what it robs you of here.