There’s something all of us fear deep down, even if we don’t verbalize it or give into the terror. Children are no different, but they don’t usually have much say in avoiding the things that make them nervous, whether it’s the barking dog on the walk to school or the terrifying spotlight of Show & Tell every Tuesday (that would have been me).
Since I’m big on moving onward and upward, creating life lists, and overcoming fear big or small, I’ve been thinking lately about my approach to teaching my children to conquer fear.
We achieved a major milestone in the last few months with Precocious starting junior high, leaving Charming to fend for himself in elementary school. Last year was officially the last time both my children attended the same school together, and we’ve squared ourselves into the wind to face the barrage of changes rolling into us all at once. I won’t pretend for a second I’m not completely terrified by the turmoil of the elementary school playground bullying and the horrors of the junior high boys who don’t stop talking about sex long enough to take a breath (When do we talk about sex at my house? We talk about sex all. the. time.). Parenting small children is physically exhausting, and there were more than a few times I wanted to pitch my little ornery toddlers into the snow for the night, but teaching older children how to navigate the social, hormonal, intellectual, and societal waters is a constant emotional battleground.
Nevertheless I take my responsibility to teach my children in every regard (who made me the boss of maturation?) and every discipline (show & tell can be a very scary thing – for some of us) rather seriously. As far as I’m concerned, learning to conquer fear is one of the more important things I can impart to my little people while they’re under my daily care. If I can help them learn how not to be wholly terrified by all the big (and sometimes very small) things in life, I’ll consider my job well done.
So, how does one achieve this elusive non-fear of the fearful things? By facing them head on with a brave face and a racing heart. Like the age old adage, one has to get (back) on the proverbial horse and hold on for dear life (until the ride is over), whichever comes first.
At this crossroads with my children there have been a handful of options for after-school extracurriculars to help expedite their growth and understanding of the world, and a random selection of sports teams to join. Some mandatory, like piano lessons and church activities, and some not so much. Things that terrify my children, and things that terrify me. We tried a smattering of sports with both kids over the years but nothing ever stuck, and I decided this Fall things were going to change, it was time for the kids to get thrown into the deep end.
I forced the kids try out for swim team. I told them they needed to physically push themselves, against themselves, with a team, under a coach who would make them push until they cry. If they didn’t make the team, I would have dropped the issue and moved onto another avenue for growth, and I told them as much. But if they did make the team, they were 100% committed for the season, end of discussion.
Both kids made the team and swim double digit hours several days a week. It’s hard, they’re exhausted, and they’re regularly pushed to do things that terrify them, which is the whole beauty of fear:
it can be overcome.
After watching the Olympics as a family this past summer (as we do every four years) we talked about win or lose, the monumental ordeal it is for athletes to be there at all. We talked about the sacrifice and fear, the possibility for injury, the fear of failure on such a terribly important global stage. With the rest of the world, we sat on the edge of our seats watching with bated breath as athletes tumbled on the track and false started off the blocks at the most important races of their athletic lives. When it was all over and the sweat and tears ran dry, we talked about the importance of trying, win, lose or fall, that sometimes the best way to conquer a fear is to close our eyes and plunge straight into the deepest waters before we break to the surface and find the light.
This post was sponsored by Hallmark. I’m thrilled to be partnering with them in 2012 as part of their “Life Is a Special Occasion” campaign. As always all stories, opinions, and willfully disobedient children are my own.