On Fear-based Parenting

I recall pushing my two-year-old son to greet strangers. He was timid and unsure, and I would encourage him out from behind my knees, prompting him to say hello. 

I was worried that he would forever be ‘shy’, that he would not learn to speak up for himself, that he would not be friendly to strangers. I was worried that I was offending these adults, that they would think him rude, or not know how wonderful he was, and how chatty he was at home. I was worried they would think less of me were I not to push him. 😥

Fear was doing the parenting. 

My son felt it. He didn’t open up. He didn’t feel safe. After all, his mum was acting differently. She was expecting him to act differently. He felt my discomfort, as well as his own, and by pushing him, I was teaching him that social convention was more important than his own need for safety and security. Ugh. I realised my mistake and stopped before he learnt to override his own sense of discomfort to please me. 

When our children feel our fear, it shifts their focus. They either internalise our worry, or they learn to disregard their own. Over time, they learn to play small, or they push dangerous limits to rebel. Either way, they’ve stopped listening to their inbuilt guide; themselves. 

Momentarily, you might fear a fall. You might fear them getting their heart broken or their ankle sprained. You might fear them being rejected. You might fear they’ll be cold without a jacket on. 

A lot of the time our fears are projections into the future. Your young child hits another without remorse, and you fear they’ll never show empathy. Your toddler throws their food on the floor and you worry they’ll never learn to eat politely. Your child refuses to participate in a group activity, and you’re anxious they’ll never learn to share or work in a team. 

When you notice fear about to do the parenting, take a step back. How will this play out in the eyes of your child? Will they feel loved, valued, trusted and respected? Or will they feel mistrusted, unappreciated, disrespected or unvalued? When fear does the parenting (both in the moment, and over time), they will almost always experience the latter. 

It’s our job to do the internal work on our unconsciously projected fears and anxieties. To challenge them and play them out in our heads. We might ask –

Is this a big deal?

Can I trust my child to work this out? Do I need to interfere with their process?

Can I trust my child to know themselves better than I do?

Can I trust that this moment is not representative of all that my child is, or will become?

Can I trust that my child will learn and develop over time, and not force a reactionary ‘lesson’ in this moment? 

When we consciously shift to demonstrating trust and confidence in our children’s abilities and in *who they are*, we build their trust in us, and – more importantly – their trust in themselves. We provide the conditions they need to thrive. 

 

Our own fears for our children – momentary or clung to – end up providing the conditions our children least need to thrive. When we notice our fears doing the parenting, we can reassess and consciously shift so that our child feels our unconditional love and acceptance instead of our fear, disappointment or mistrust.

– Natalie Hodgkin, Peace by Peace Parenting