FEAR BASED PARENTING: Managing Fear or Being Managed by Fear?

Do you find yourself being preoccupied with fears about your kids?  

Do you engage in ‘what if’ thinking? (What if they fail their exam?  What if they don’t make friends? What if they catch a cold because they didn’t wear a jacket?…)

If you answered YES to any of the questions above, know that you are not alone.  Many of today’s parents grapple with persistent fears in raising their children. Since effective parenting involves “On-the-Job-Learning,” fear comes with the territory. With that said, if not kept in check, these kinds of fears can quickly grow to overwhelm you and your children. 

Although fear can be useful in alerting us to a threat against our kids, it also can transform a balanced parent into a hovering, helicopter parent. A parent who attempts to engineer and control life circumstances in order to eliminate emotional hardship and failure for their kids. Fear can immobilize a child and keep them from going out of their comfort zone to learn, grow, and thrive.

Fear is often fueled by a worry about the future. It feeds on ‘what if’ thinking.  Some examples might be:

What if I try to make friends and say something totally embarrassing? Will I ever be able to make friends again?

What if I try to give my speech, and my mind goes totally blank? 

What if my son tries out for the team and does not make it? 

What if my daughter fails her science test?  Will she start to avalanche and become a failure?

When unchecked, fear can lead parents and children down the road of avoidance. Children seek to avoid making mistakes for fear of humiliation and embarrassment. Some kids show this fear by people by shutting down. Others avoid by attempting to control the situation (acting like a class clown). Caring and loving parents often face the temptation of protecting their children from their fears. If avoidance becomes a habit, a parent and / or child can find that their confidence and self – esteem shrinks while the fear grows.  Avoidance can turn fear into insecurity.

As values grounded parents, it is important to acknowledge that facing one’s fears is part of growing up (just like our kids, we too are growing up as parents). Facing our fears involves some gritty and tough work – though just because it is tough does not mean it is unhealthy or bad. In fact, when we begin to address our fears, we stop the cycle of avoidance.  Rather than feeding fear, we begin to feed our self – esteem and confidence.

Here are some practical tips at addressing your fears as a parent:

  • Assess if the fear is there to protect your child against a threat of physical safety.  If so, take clear action to ensure safety.  By so doing, you are supporting security and NOT insecurity.
  • Have open conversations with your children about fear
    • Normalize that dealing with fear is part of growing up
    • Talk about the fears you faced when you were growing up
    • Avoid lecture – rather ask questions about their experience of fear and insecurity. Remember, there is a reason for why our good Lord gave us 2 ears and 1 mouth – we should listen twice as much as we talk!
    • Try to take your child’s perspective – ‘walk a mile in their moccasins’as the saying goes. Remember, they are still children and the temptation is to avoid things that are stressful – fear happens to be quite stressful!
    • Validate their fear and discuss healthy ways to manage versus avoid
  • Breathe – do some diaphragmatic breathing – this helps slow your heart rate and fear based thoughts. Once your body and mind settle, you become less reactive in your decision – making and are better able to engage your rationale brain. Check out this link for specific directions:  https://www.health.harvard.edu/lung-health-and-disease/learning-diaphragmatic-breathing.
    • Teach your children these breathing techniques
  • Remember that mistakes are part of growing up and learning. In order for your kids to learn, they will make mistakes. 
    • Discuss what your kids have learned from their mistakes

In future blogs, we will cover mistake making and mistake management.

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