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Friday, February 3, 2012

Do you push your fearful kid?

My oldest just brought home his lesson 17 test. The reading comprehension portion was especially appropriate:
"The baby bird was afraid. He was sure that he did not know how to fly, but his mother did not seem to agree with him. Little by little, his mother pushed him closer to the edge of the nest. "I am not ready," the baby bird said. "Please, mother, do not push me out of this nest!" Her face looked kind, but the mother just kept pushing. She knew the time was right. She could not tell her son this. He would have to learn it for himself. The baby bird began to fall, and the ground seemed very close. At the last moment, he soared up high! He could fly!"
The first question following this paragraph asked "What is the main idea of this story?" The correct answer was "The mother bird knew best." My son selected "The baby bird was afraid." I'm sure to him, that was the main idea. How can mother birds better explain to their kids that the time is right? 


See this scary lizard? I once used it to try and bribe my son to get into the pool for his swim lessons. It failed. I failed. And whenever I feel myself pushing my kids to do things they are scared to do, this is how I picture myself. 

I didn't become the Lizard today, thankfully. We took the boys to a production of Robin Hood today at the Gemini Children's Theater. It was very entertaining and offered a ton of chances for the boys to hop out of their seats and participate - but they completely refused. 

These kids, who can barely sit down at home, were glued to their chairs! Towards the end of the show, my four year old did raise his hand to answer a question and received a lot of praise from us, but that was the extent of their participation.

I contemplated dragging them out of their chairs onto the small stage floor, but decided against it when I remembered the struggle I had getting my middle son to participate in gymnastics class

When do you push a fearful kid to try new things? How do you do it without torturing them?

I sure don't know.

I worry because a fear of trying new things could mean a problem with self-esteem. We all struggle with low self-esteem, but I wonder how easy it is to re-set that internal thermostat and feel confident about striking out down a new path. 

A rare moment when he was in the water.
The Lizard Day, as a I call it, was a new low. I told my husband to buy it & text a photo to us while were at the pool of The Lizard waiting at home. Still, the kid wouldn't get in the pool. So the bribe turned into a threat: if he didn't get the pool, we'd return The Lizard before he had a chance to play with it. He was too scared of the pool to get in, no matter how much he wanted that Lizard. He dissolved into a blubbering, wailing mess. Thank goodness he was in a swim suit because the amount of tears he cried soaked his clothes. I brought him home, handed over the Lizard out of guilt, and we never went back to swim lessons.

The middle one isn't the only fearful one in the family. I had to push my oldest to try Chess Club in Kindergarten and he ended up winning the entire beginner's tournament. We had to push him again to attend the summer camp at our new daycare, and thankfully worked out well. But getting him to try & enjoy an excellent enrichment class over the summer didn't turn out so well. He cried a lot, every morning. And is afraid to try riding his two-wheel bike, even with training wheels. 

As parents, unfortunately, we don't have a lot of patience with "afraid to try." 

But I'm guilty of the same fears.

I was incredibly afraid to try SCUBA diving. I gave it a shot twice and barely resisted running screaming from the pool both times. It wasn't until we planned a honeymoon in Palau that I realized, "I've got to face this fear." I could live without knowing how to SCUBA. But something deep in my character didn't like the idea of giving up before really giving it a chance.  I got certified, passed all my tests, got out to Palau - and yes, I sat on the boat and cried during our first dive. I couldn't make myself drop backwards into the deep blue sea that morning. We had lunch and that afternoon, I took the plunge. And loved it

I'm not trying to make my children scared. I am trying to help them find new things they love. I can't wait for them to explore this world! I, like many parents, believe they have unlimited potential and don't want them confined to the known. 

If I don't push them out of the nest, they will never fly. But I can't stand the look of terror I sometimes see when I make them stand on the edge, looking out into the abyss. Does a good mother pull them back in or give one more tiny nudge?


  1. I'm obviously a bird, and a big scary one! Shove them. Hard, if necessary. No guilt. No regrets. And no giving them the lizard! A hug, yes, but no lizard. I have watched my oldest blosssom out of what you described (a blubbering mass of fear) and into a very brave young teen. It might be because of my parenting tactics, Taekwondo lessons, or perhaps her own maturity journey. But for now, I'm still in charge of her, so I'm taking the credit. LOL!

    1. The Lizard was sheer desperation.... I've come back from that moment of madness. The whole taking credit thing is a double-edged sword right? Take credit for good, take credit for bad?