Changing the Cycle of Fear for Our Children

My children enjoy a great deal of freedom. When I was child we also had freedom. It was OK to take a bus alone, walk slowly to a friend’s house exploring along the way, and even **gasp** speak to some to strangers. But as my childhood progressed I saw a slow weakening of trust in people. I remember palpably feeling distrust take over my parents when a made-for-TV movie came on about a child kidnapped or murdered. It felt as if it was actually the intended purpose of the show to instil fear.

Flash forward to the present and almost every news story is encouraging fear. All the recent shootings and violence throughout the US keep us scared, worried, and in a constant state of reacting to things through emotion alone. The thing that most people do not realize, what I didn’t realize for a long time, is that through fear we are easier to control. We also lose who we were meant to be, and we do not follow the life path we were on as children.

When we hold onto fear or instil it in our children it fundamentally changes who we are, who they are.

Most parents I know, me included sometimes, use fear to control our children. Usually it is in the name of safety but a lot of times it stretches far beyond safety and more towards just getting our children to do what we want. It works..sometimes…in the short term! But is it worth it? Is it worth scaring our children, making them fearful, and capable of being controlled through their emotions?
I don’t think that it is. My youngest 2 sons have always been daredevils, scaring people where ever we go. And I am sure some people look at my reaction to the things they do and wonder where I am, why I am not yelling at them, demanding they stop doing x, y and z, and to be more careful. I understand this mentality and sometimes I am gritting my teeth and holding my proverbial tongue because as a mom I am petrified and do not want anything bad to happen to them….EVER!

Sometimes you have to let them leap!
But just when I am about to yell,” be careful”, I think, what is worse, a broken arm or a crushed spirit? Is it worse overall for their lives to have a cut that needs stitches or to be crippled by fear? A concussion or the feeling that your parents do not believe in you and so the belief in yourself wanes?

I my opinion, the latter of each is far worse, especially in the long run. I do not want my children’s actions to be controlled by fear..EVER! For when they allow themselves to be controlled by fear anyone can control them, push them towards unhappy choices, and throw them off the path they were destined to be on. A cut heals, a broken arm sets and bruises fade, but it is nearly impossible to reverse those fearful thoughts and images that we are conditioned to accept as reality as children.

Is it my job to keep them safe? Of course it is and I do that to the best of my ability without taking away the person that they are. One son has broken his arm and needed stitches twice, and one son has had a concussion. I think that is standard fare for three boys over the span 13 years. Just because we can picture the next bad thing that could happen does NOT mean that it will happen. Most people would be shocked that we let our 13-year-old take a bus alone, or let our 9-year-old walk down the street to the store in a foreign country, or let our 5-year-old climb pretty much anything, but nothing bad has happened.

Now you are thinking that just because it hasn’t happened doesn’t mean it won’t! I get that, and I think that at times as well. Remember I, too, was conditioned to accept fear as part of my reality when I was a child. But in the long run my boys feel confident and proud of themselves where a lot of children have replaced those things with fear and low self-esteem.

We need to trust our children and give them the freedom to find their own successes and to learn from their own failures. It is possibly the hardest part of parenting but I believe one of the most imperative gifts we can give. It can be hard in this world to separate real dangers from imagined ones, but when you make the change you and your children will prosper.

Our conditioning to this fear based mentality coupled with the realization that we are passing it on to our children is a perfect example of why we have to stop the cycle.

So what can we do to stop the cycle of fear?

-For starters be aware of how much you are controlling your child. It is their life and they have a right to be in control of it far more than is the cultural norm of today.
-Next get your own emotions and fears in check, whatever it takes let go of the fear and stop making irrational decisions based on emotions.
-When your child asks you to do something that immediately makes you see danger signs. STOP! And think through what the real concerns are. Is it a real danger? Are others doing it and surviving?
-Trust your child to make good decisions. I find children are far more capable if we let them live and learn on their own. They know their capabilities better than we do in most instances.
-Start small, each week let them do something you used to immediately say no to. Your comfort level will rise and so will their confidence.

Not much feels better then accomplishment on your own terms!
Breaking the cycle of fear is possible. Breaking the cycle of fear is necessary! Guide them, but let them cook, let them climb, let them jump, and let them explore and you will see the changes starting. The change has to start with you, the parent – but they end with a confident child!

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  1. So funny you posted this today. As Tigger and I were walking along a bridge here in Lyon, he hopped up and walked, hopped, and ran along the edge of the bridge. It made me feel a bit panicky, so I just stopped looking at him. Other people freaked out. It can be hard to let them do stuff that scares us, but it's so important to let them.

    1. I agree, watching is really tough sometimes. After 3 boys though I am a pro at letting it slide and hoping for the best! They are all so confident and honestly the best moments are watching them accomplish something head on!

  2. Thanks for this great reminder that it is okay to let children experience and learn from their own silly mistakes. I certainly am guilty of stopping them short of some "fun" activity that I deem a tad riskful (only a tad...but it's so much easier to just disallow it altogether!). Thanks for this great post!

    1. Thank you, I was a bit nervous that I might be judged harshly about some things I said but I believe they are soo very important!

  3. I love this post! You just described my parenting style. My kids played out front without a parent always around, fell down and made mistakes but I think they are better people for it. Personally, I am really tired of this constant state of fear our governments want us to be in. You're right, fear does allow us to be controlled. Bravo to you!

  4. Thanks so much, I think it is the best way for kids. I hope some changes start happening and people loosen up the fear!

  5. Brilliant. I needed this, because I have been injured so often that I cringe at injury-opportunities. But, each person has to live their lives to the best of their abilities - and joys. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. I am so glad! It is hard to remember when its the pepl we love most, we want to protect them:)

  6. Thank you, Thank you!

    I have been fighting this misconception for such a long time! You did a wonderful job of explaining it!
    I can't tell you how many times people have given me the stink eye or said something because I was not hovering over my kids. One lady stopped my 10 yr old on her bicycle because she did not feel it was safe for her to ride her bike to class. Nevermind the fact that she had on her helmet and my husband and her rode the route together before she ever tried it oh her own. Just yesterday at the beach I was given many dirty looks because I let my 22 month old splash and play in the wavers without me intervening. He would get knocked down but always got up and if he were to get in real trouble I was close enough to help.
    I really believe that in order to have self assured adults that they need this time as kids to explore, figure out gravity and the workings of the world around them.
    So I will also keep doing what I am doing, dirty looks and all.

    1. Good for you. Pne of the best things we can do is to stop caring what everyone else is thinking of how we parent! We know our kids and we have the right to view our role differently then others! Keep up the good work!

  7. When living in a foreign country I noticed how I'd hear this phrase (translated, means "you'll fall") several times per day in any place with children around. It was said to envoke fear and to prevent such a horror (fall! OH NO!)and usually with tiny children. Everyone from grandparents to shopkeepers to parents to passersby would say this to small children. I marvelled at how often I heard this phrase and how it was beginning to grate on my nerves. WHY do they have to SAY that all the darn time?! Is there really no hope? Is that really the ONLY outcome? Hearing it in another country made me pay attention and I realized it happens in my own culture just as much, or horrors, more! I asked that we not say the phrase but then even without it I noticed we had other ways of 'saying' it, disallowing certaing behavior, etc. Thanks for the 2nd wake-up call, sometimes it takes a few knocks before I get to the door....still groggy maybe!

    1. Thanks! I love to provide a wake up call. It can be really hard sometimes to let the fear go especially when we are constantly around people putting it in our minds:)