Raising fearless children, whether on the ball field or in the classroom, is a goal of every good parent.
But what if your athlete struggles with fear? Fear of failure? Fear of risk? Fear of not being good enough?
Where does this fear come from? It shows up in children without any warning and you wonder, Where did that come from?
Some of you may have been born into a family of worriers.
You were barely out of the womb and family members were like, “Oh my gosh, don’t drop the baby. Bundle her up tight. Make sure she’s not too hot. Make sure she’s not too cold. Make sure she’s wearing a bicycle helmet. Make sure she’s invested in the right 401K.” **
New parents get jitters. All parents are vigilant. This is normal and necessary.
But in other homes, children–young athletes for our conversation–are raised in a genuine climate of fear. Life is seen as one big threat that never ends. At any moment, something could go wrong. And it probably will.**
So how do you stop this spiral? How do you not raise your child in a climate of fear? Here’s some keys to raising fearless children:
Oversee Their Intake of Fearful Information
There is so much bad stuff going on today and kids hear about most of it. They wonder about what might happen if someone starts shooting at their school or if a terrorist sets off a bomb at their local mall. And then there’s earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and war. These fears are real in today’s world.
Information can be a big burden for kids. When they are little, keep exposure to frightening things–movies, news, video games–at a minimum.
But as they get older, that’s not realistic. This is when the communication you have with your kids is vital so you can talk about their fears with them. You can answer their questions, not minimize their fears and be very aware of things that could cause them to be fearful. When you become aware of something that causes them to be fearful, don’t wait for them to bring it up. YOU broach the subject first and even if they don’t want to talk about it then, at least they know you are aware and open to talking about it. This invites them to bring it up when they are ready.
Keep Your Fears to Yourself
As a sports mom, I had a ton of fears–Will my child get hurt? What if my child doesn’t do well in this sport? What if they don’t get any playing time this game?–but sharing those fears with my kids would only have put ideas in their heads, fears that may not even have existed before I opened my big mouth!
Unless you are concerned about safety, don’t fill your child’s head with your fears. Make sure those fears are real concerns that your child needs to know–such as stranger danger and not to text while driving–not your fears that are mere worries about things not turning out the way you want them to.
The trick is learning to distinguish the difference between what puts your child in actual danger and what simply makes you nervous.
Get Out of Your Child’s Way
Let your athlete fail. Let them figure out how to solve their own problems. Let them figure things out on their own. Let them experiment with things that don’t work, so they can learn what does work. Encourage them to take risks when there is no danger so they can practice decision-making and conflict resolution.
And then, pat them on the back for their courage to try new things that may seem hard or scary.
Show Them How to Tackle Fears
There’s not necessarily only one way to handle fears. It depends on your child, and on the situation they face. Your child doesn’t need a pat answer or a one-size-fits-all solution.
There may be times when the best way to deal with fear is to run head-on into it and there will be other times when fear should be defeated one small step at a time.
For instance, if your child is afraid of trying out for a new team, encourage them to just take the leap. That’s not a challenge that can really be taken in baby steps.
On the other hand, if your child is fearful of sliding in softball or diving off a high dive, they can learn in increments. It’s good to talk over the stages of fear-tackling with them so they know what to expect.
Let Them Know Failure is Okay
I think that fear of failure often haunted my kids as they played sports. As a parent, you must examine yourself to see if you are helping that fear to grow.
Your kids need to know that failure is normal and not fatal. Failure is an opportunity to learn. No one likes failure, and of course no one wants to fail, but the honest truth is that failure is often the best teacher.
As parents, you have a lot to do with how your kids view failure. Keep feeding them the truth that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.
I’m not advocating that your kids never see you sweat. It’s okay for them to know that their parents face fears too. I honestly didn’t see that in my parents when I was growing up. They were from a generation that believed in always looking strong and never letting their kids see them fearful.
My husband and I chose to be more open about our own fears, and yet not be so vulnerable that we projected our own fears on our kids or vomited our insecurities on them.
Here’s the distinction you should make as you choose what fears to share with them and what fears to keep to yourself: share fears that are about you or general fears and then talk about how you are handling it, not fears that you have about them.
Fears about a situation at work or seeing your parents get old versus fears about them getting hurt in a game or not having a good season. Parents don’t have to always appear fearless, but they should be cautious about the fears that they do share.
If you are struggling with how to help your child face fears, I’m a life coach for parents. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org