I would never consider myself a fearful person.
I blame my Faith and my father for most of that, and over the years I have been known to throw caution to the wind a time or two. I drank the water in the creek. I climbed to the very top of the tree. I went to Mexico and ate the lettuce. I picked up hitchhikers on my way back to school. I rode the roller coasters and went off the trail. I climbed things I wasn’t supposed to climb and waded out farther than I should.
My dad used to say, “A bird will never fly unless you let it try!” And that’s exactly what he did…let me stretch my wings. Go on adventures. Find my feet. It was hard. And it was risky. But it has made all the difference.
I wasn’t a thrill seeker, I just wasn’t afraid to live.
You see, as adults we have all learned to live in this precarious balance with our fears. It’s just how humans have to survive. Trying not to think about all the dangers that surround us, lest we lose our minds completely.
But then something ridiculous happens. Something that tips the scales between fearfulness and functioning.
We have kids.
And suddenly, all the horrible things in the world are out to get our precious little babies! We have to keep them alive and intact in a world of knives, stairs, swimming pools, and germs. And then…THEN we have to guide them as they learn to face their own fears! It’s enough to make you hide in a padded room forever.
When I found out I was pregnant with the Pickle, I began praying for what kind of person I hoped she would be. Now, I’m not sure what I was thinking. I guess I wanted her to be like me. Unafraid. Adventurous. Brave. But can I just tell you…be careful what you wish for! Parenting a fearless child is different from BEING a fearless child!
I prayed for her to be fearless. And if any of you know our little Pirate Princess at all, you know that she is exactly that. And while there have been times where her fearlessness has driven me completely insane with worry, it has also forced me to seriously regulate my own mommy fears.
Because our unfortunate reality as moms is this: from the minute they start breathing on their own, their destiny is to be separate and independent from us. If we constantly live in fear for them — protecting every step, padding every fall, clinging to them at every turn — the longer it will take for them to gain the independence and confidence necessary to face the world and all of its fears.
So we’ve tried really hard to intentionally step back. Let her try things on her own. Climb walls. Jump from rock to rock. Balance without help. Run far. Bike on ahead. We have also had to let her fall. Slip. Stumble. And Fail. But after four years, I believe we are all the better for it. Her fearlessness and our willingness to let her figure out her limits on her own have given us some of our greatest adventures and sweetest memories, and she is a beautifully confident little person as a result.
If you have a fearless child or are hoping to foster fearlessness in your child, here are some simple things we have learned along the way:
STAY CALM. When they fall or get hurt if you stay calm, they will learn to stay calm.
GIVE THEM SPACE. Let them know you are near, but that they are also able to run across the park by themselves or to walk ahead of you on the trail.
IF THEY CAN’T DO IT THEMSELVES, DON’T LET THEM DO IT. This teaches them to know their boundaries. If something is too big or too hard to do without a lot of help, they will either move on to something they can do, or they will take the challenge and figure it out themselves.
DON’T DO IT FOR THEM. Facilitate. Guide. Be there. But make them do the work. Whether it’s walking the balance beam or writing their name. This allows them to become familiar with their own bodies and abilities.
TEACH THE DIFFERENCE. Fearless is all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Teach them the difference between being brave and being stupid. Because there IS a difference.
KEEP YOUR FEARS TO YOURSELF. Teach them healthy fears, like strangers and running in the road. But your fears of sharks, spiders, mass murderers, disease, aliens, etc.? Yeeeaaaah… keep them to yourself.
DON’T PUSH. Fearless children are completely fearless and wonderful and wild…until they’re not. And there will be times that, for whatever reason, they decide they are scared of something. Or not willing to try. In that moment, it’s ok to just walk away. They will come back to it when they are ready… and you will be amazed!
What are some of your greatest fears for your children? Do you have a fearless child? What other parenting tips could you add?