Thursday, August 11, 2011

Respecting a child's fears

Danny was in vacation bible school one week last month. He went last summer, too. It didn't go so well. This year, he's much more engaged and directable. Both times, it helped immensely that his best buddy and neighbor goes with him. Last year, he even rode with them to the church a few times.

On a Monday morning, our neighbor showed up to collect Danny, who happily trotted off.

Ahhhhh. I felt a wave of relief at how easy that was. Minutes later, he was back.

I got nervous, he told me.

My formerly fearless little guy had decided that his neighbor's car is scary and he'll have no part of riding in it. None whatsoever.


Driving three kids across town during one of the hottest weeks of the year and all that entails -- corralling kids and shoes and gear, the seat belt rodeo, the risk of premature napping -- made my life a bit inconvenient.

Of course, I don't like pushing him into doing something he's not comfortable with.  It's a fine line that I tread here. Too much pushing can lead to resistance. Not enough nudging and I could end up played like a violin. (I do like violin music. I just don't like being the violin.)

I tried to help him talk about his fears. I told him that sometimes the only way to get over your fear is to just be brave and do it. I let him know that it's okay to be afraid and nervous. I asked him what he thinks would help him not be nervous. He said he didn't know. On his first day of VBS, I told him to stick with his buddy and remember that he was there to have fun. That seemed to help.

I also told him that sometimes mommy gets scared. When he asked why, I actually couldn't think of a single thing that I'm scared off; at least not anything that I could share with a 4 year old. (It's not easy to explain the sheer terror I feel over accidentally getting pregnant again.)

On the long van ride to VBS one morning, Danny started asking about elevators. His dad had taken him and Owen on the elevator at Sears that past weekend. He just thought that was fantastic.

And it's something that his mother never, EVER in a million years would do with him.
You know why? Because I'm freaking terrified of elevators. I told him this, in so many words, when he asked me to go on an elevator ride with him.

He told me that I just needed to do it and asked me why I was scared.

What if the doors don't open and we get stuck? I told him.

Well, we just have to shot [sic] at the doors, he tells me.

Then it hit me.

As an adult, I have the ability and the authority to avoid situations that scare me or make me nervous. No one tells me what to do or where to go. Kids don't always have that luxury.

But they should. As often as they need it, they absolutely should.

I can't imagine someone telling me that I have to take an elevator every time I go to the mall. I avoid elevators at the mall by not taking strollers or only going to stores on the first level should I need to take a stroller. I save my fears up for the times when I have to take an elevator to, say, the 15th floor. See? I make my own life inconvenient to avoid my fears. Why should I deny that right to a child who is powerless in so many areas of his life?

The day after he and I had this conversation, I made the grave error of trying to physically force my gangly 33 pound 4 year old into a car seat in his neighbor's car and strap him in. It didn't work. And he didn't go back to VBS for the rest of the week. (I'm finding that he's not really a VBS/preschool/group activity kind of kid, but that's a whole other blog posts right there.)

I later apologized to him and told him that sometimes mom's make mistakes. He didn't exactly forgive me. I don't think he understands that concept yet. But he did tell me that I did the wrong thing.

I agree.

It's likely that my son will get over his fear in time and a lot quicker if I let him work out his fears instead of forcing him into a situation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Being a stay at home parent for the past 7 years was the most challenging rime of my life. And that is saying much because I have had some very interesting situations in my life time. The difference is that when you are a parent, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and put upon. That where is your fair share. You see being a parent requires you to be Altruistic all the time. And I had to learn to say I am sorry when my anger and resultant actions because of being in that state governed the atmosphere in the house. I also had to realize that whenever I got into the position that my parenting chores where a curse and not a gift, I because irritable. The best part of finally surrendering to the fact that I Just Work Here mentality, was that I became a kid myself and really started to enjoy myself most of the time. I started to plan adventures that I too would enjoy like going to the movies, and getting the refillable bucket. Taking a 2 1/2 hour trip out to the sea shore. Yes it is challenging but I must remember that my Mom raised 11 children with my Father away for the US Government a lot. I now have memories because of my time with the girls that will live with us for ever. All the memories good & bad. It is a gift to be home and harder that going to work!