The results of parenting in fear

Children are resilient, I've been told often they will "survive in spite of me", and now I believe it. But, there are many effects of parenting in fear, because of fear, and these detriments can last a lifetime.

If we parent in fear, we might be afraid of: 1. our children not liking us, 2. our children getting harmed, 3. failure, etc. If we parent using fear, it's because we: 1. haven't learned proper child development and discipline techniques, 2. we think it's the quickest way to get a child to obey, etc. Another possibility is that we parent by allowing our child's fears to dictate his life, our life and the family life.

What could possibly be wrong with protecting our child so that they never get hurt, never get sick, always like us, always get what they want? What's wrong with scaring a child just a little to obey? What's wrong with always avoiding that one street, that certain color shirt, or food because Johnny's afraid of it? Lots.

[I claim to be no expert. I am just a (still fairly new) parent. I have a degree in psychology, studied child development and have worked with children for the last 8 years in various settings, typical, delayed and disabled. I also love to read and research so much, that I just need an outlet. Read or not, that's okay.]

Let's start off with the easy one: using scare tactics on your child. We've all done it. We'll all do it at some point. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It doesn't work when you're child is old enough to think, theorize, it loses it's effectiveness. (Okay, I typed that word and had to then look it up to make sure that theorize was indeed a word.) It works occasionally when you're child is running toward the street and you yell "stop or you'll get hit by a car". It's not so good, as Kevin found out, using it in such that you scare your child and that's all you hear about. He thought telling Kian that (jokingly) he should stay in bed so the alligators didn't get him and bite his feet. (yes, stupid) Well, for a week that's all we heard, afraid to get in or out of bed. I made Kevin make it right. You don't need to create a fearful child, plus as they get older they realize you have lied, or are lying, to them and won't take you seriously, especially about the important things.

So, what's so bad about catering to Johnny's needs, avoiding everything green, everything that slightly resembles that mouse he's terrified of? It's not realistic. That's not how the real world works. You can't avoid these things forever. You might be able to avoid that certain thing in your neighborhood but when he's on the bus for kindergarten, they can't and won't.

Should we throw our children to the wolves? No, but we should work on their flexibility, their adaptability, and learn that it's okay to be uncomfortable and feel that way but we also need to look at the greater picture. Kian doesn't want to leave the library, but I've given him warnings that it's time to go. He is going to make a scene, I know it and he knows it. It doesn't matter the threats or discipline I adhere, it's bound to happen. But does that mean I give in and stay longer? No, I tell him that I/we need to do what's best for the family as a whole and staying another hour isn't it. I describe his feelings "I know you're mad/sad/etc. about leaving, we can come back another day, but it's time to go". Then I shut up and if he's still having a fit, so be it, I buckle him in, roll down the window, turn up the radio and away we go. (There's also a fear of discipline, which is a whole other issue.) But, if we try to avoid any and all triggers in our children we are creating false security (it's going to happen sometime, someday, somewhere and it's better to prepare them now) and that their needs trump the rest of the family's or world's needs.

The same goes for fearful parenting of avoiding germs, never letting them get hurt. The world is not a terrible place, but we are teaching them it is by telling them all the bad things that could happen, might happen to them. We can't protect them until they're 40, we can't put bubble wrap on every street corner. Many times, clients of mine would receive physical therapy for delayed gross motor skills. I'd go with the PT and she'd work on crawling or walking up stairs and parents would freak out. They didn't want their kids exposed to stairs, it's too risky and scary. The PTs would try to explain it was necessary for proper motor development (all the million reasons why). Why are we afraid to let our kids try? Sure they will fall, get hurt, but they learn to get up and try again. There's protecting our kids and there's overprotecting them and then there's just insanity. =) I have scars, and I can tell you exactly where each one came from--right shin-fell on cement steps leading to our front door, back of left thigh-fell off swing at church onto the cement holding the post in, 8 yrs old, under my chin-rode my trike down the front steps at age 3 (okay I don't remember that last one, mom reminds me). But, that's life.

The child then begins to learn and feel they are only safe at home, the rest of the world and everyone in it is bad, dirty, harmful, etc. They withdraw, they are shy, they don't trust. They become fearful. They are naive and gullible, easily taken advantage of by the more experienced kids. They're awkward and not fluid in social settings. They don't try. That, I think is the saddest part, they don't try. They don't learn to become confident, they aren't given chances to try and fail, to try again. If mom tells them they can't do x, then they won't do it and they won't try it. I don't want to tell my kids they can't not do anything (well, you know what i mean, except like whacking his brother, running in the street...). I want them to try. I know they'll fail sometimes, but i want them to keep trying. I don't want them to fear things, people, their world. I want my kids to view the world as opportunities and wide open, and to reach their fullest potential.

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