Brave Parenting in a Scary World

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Brave: /brāv/adjective

Ready to face or endure danger or pain; showing courage.

Gird your loins mommas. I’m going to get real.

I’ve never categorized myself as brave. I have never been one to take risks, especially if the words “danger” or “pain” are involved. If there is any chance of an activity landing me in the ER, I’ll take a pass. I like the comfort of the known. The peace of routine and ritual. Even though you will not find me lining up to skydive, I didn’t classify myself as fearful. That is, until I became a parent.

Fear: /’fir/ noun

An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, painful, or threatening.

I’ve shared before about my fear during my pregnancy, but as it turns out, parenting is the real fear battlefield. Our babies come to us so tiny, so vulnerable and we’re their main line of defense. Hello, responsibility.

Me and Google hit it off famously during my son’s first few months, it was just like what my fellow contributor described here. Fear can lead you to some interesting online searches to say the least, but that was really on the tip of the iceberg. I found myself fearful of him being sick, fearful of him falling and injuring himself, fearful I wasn’t doing motherhood right, and basic fear of the unknown.

I don’t know if we’re parenting in a scarier world than our parents, or if it’s just the 24 hour news stream and constant information at our fingertips that makes it seem that way. Bottom line, the world is a scary place and we are charged with raising our children to eventually grow up and walk out into that world all on their own. Scary indeed.

I know I don’t want to be a fearful parent because that fear will find it’s way onto my son and make him fearful and timid. I want him to find a way to explore the world, test his limits, and be curious and courageous. I don’t want my hang-ups to become his. So how exactly do we do this parenting thing without being fearful? How do we raise independent and brave boys and girls?

Truth time: I HAVE NO FREAKING CLUE.

But fear not (see what I did there?) I have found some resources with much more  know-how to help us along. I reached out to LEGIT professionals with degrees in child psychology, because I am SO not the one to be giving advice on this topic. I’m right here, pen in hand feverishly taking notes, mommas.

Drs. Stacey Rexrode, PhD, Dina O’Brien, PhD,  and Kathy Engel, PhD are clinical psychologists in practice in Cedar Park, TX. Collectively, they see individuals 3 years of age and up. They were amazing enough to let me interview them and share their insights with all of you!
Q: What advice would you give fearful parents about raising brave children?
A: Be sure to separate your fears from their fears – it’s easy to take your fear of germs or spiders, etc. and transfer them to your children. Make a conscious attempt to shelter your children from any identified irrational fears (i.e.: not sending them to school due to fears of a school shooting). Don’t be afraid to check out what the community standard is by asking what other parents are allowing or not allowing. This is to prevent yourself from acting on your fears and over-protecting your children.
If you feel your own anxiety is interfering with your ability to parent confidently, it’s important to seek out your own support, whether in therapy, from friends or family, your church or community resources.
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Explore books and movies with your children that discuss or involve courage and bravery of all kinds, for example,  Preschool-Grade 3: Peep: A little Book About Taking a Leap by Maria VanLieshout,  I’m Brave by Kate McMullen, The Dandelion Seed by Joseph Anthony; Grade 3 and up – The Wanderer by Sharon Creech, The Boy Who Dared by Susan Bartoletti. Movies that have a lesson in bravery and courage: Brave; The Lion King; Dolphin Tale; Finding Nemo.
Q: How can parents give their timid or fearful child confidence?
A: Empathize with their fear rather than minimizing or belittling it. (i.e.: don’t say – suck it up, there’s no reason to be scared. Instead say – I know that might be scary for you, let’s talk about it.)
Teach them that certain kinds of thinking can be unhelpful – such as catastrophic thinking, which is overestimating how dangerous a situation is while at the same time underestimating our ability to handle that situation. Instead – give them tools to feel confident in their ability to cope with the situation or fear. Challenge fear-induced thinking by asking such questions as: “what evidence is there that your feared situation is likely to happen”? Most of the time there is a more accurate way to look at it – “what do you know is true”?
Teach them tools to relax their bodies when they are anxious, such as slowing their breathing, taking deep breaths, going for a walk, listening to calming music, or engaging in an activity that distracts and calms (ie: coloring, building).
Help them recognize successes and reinforce these often, especially when they are victorious in getting through a feared situation, which helps build their confidence and allows them to see that they are more capable than they thought. (Yeah! You petted that dog even though you were scared!)
Q: How can parents set the example of bravery?
A: Model the steps of talking through the situation (Even though this is hard, and I am scared – what do I know to be true versus what are my worst fears?)
When in a scary situation with your children (ie: a tornado warning/watch) – use language that is confidence-building such as – we’re going to be fine, we can handle this, we are in a safe place, we have a plan, etc… Avoid having your children see or hear you engage in dramatic emotional verbal communication and body language.
Show your children that you are willing to face challenges even though you may be fearful, celebrate your victories with them.
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Q: How can parents approach and discuss scary topics with young children?
A: Let their questions guide you in your explanation, which will avoid you having to give extraneous detail that they haven’t even thought of.
Stay away from visual material, such as internet and TV news for young children
The younger they are, the less actual detail you need to provide.
Reassuring them of what you know is true – “you are safe, your school is safe, the things that are in place to keep you safe”. Remind them of the measures that are already in place in their community to help keep them safe – first responders, the helpers, the good people in the world who do good and will continue to do good. Assure them that even though bad things do happen (school shootings) they are very very rare. Keep them focused on the fact that good things happen much more often. Keep their routine as undisturbed as possible after a negative event (flood, fire, etc).
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Q: How can parents convey the serious nature of certain issues without invoking fear?
A: Fear is normal and invoking some fear is ok and beneficial (i.e.: stranger danger, looking both ways before crossing the street) however, we don’t want to overwhelm children. Knowledge is power, and we have to teach our kids how to be safe by educating them on how to be prepared, how to cope, and how to solve problems without catastrophizing. Recognizing your own emotional state as a parent is going to be important, since you would not want to have a discussion with your child if you were panicking or outwardly distressed. Keep your emotions in check so they are not unintentionally transferred to your kids.
Still with me mommas? In addition to this amazing advice, I want to introduce you to two Austin moms with a wealth of wisdom and resources that may be helpful in your personal and parenting journey.

Susie Davis is a local Austin mom, blogger, author, speaker and co-founder of Austin Christian Fellowship. As a witness to one of the earliest school shootings in our nation, Susie faced years of paralyzing fear and an intense distrust of God. In her book, Unafraid, she reveals how “God relentlessly pursued me and, over time, broke my fear addiction.” If you are coming to grips with your fear and how it impacts your life, family, and joy, Susie’s book is an incredible resource.

I’ve known Vicki Courtney for over 10 years and just her experience raising 3 awesome kids who grew up and flew the nest has me knocking down her door for advice. In addition,Vicki is a national speaker and the best-selling author of numerous books including 5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Daughter; 5 Conversations You Must Have With Your Son; and her newest release, Rest Assured: A Recovery Plan for Weary Souls. Her books and her ministry are a fantastic tool for parents and women!

I’m navigating these waters right alongside you and would love your feedback and to hear your stories of triumph over fear, and brave parenting tactics!

 

 

 

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