Teaching Bravery

C has a long history of being completely terrified of miscellaneous things. Some of them, I totally get. Others – like bark chips, for example – seemed to come out of nowhere. Right now, it’s birds, spiders, and crocodiles.

About two months ago, we were getting ready for bed when C saw a spider on the bathroom floor. I was washing my face when I heard screaming. I looked up to see C, half-nekkid, plastered against the wall and screaming hysterically.

I will admit, spiders aren’t my favorite things either. I really don’t like their legs. And seeing a particularly big one – quite frankly, even thinking about a big one – makes my skin crawl. But I picked that spider up and threw it in the toilet without thinking twice about it. Granted, it was a really small spider, but still: I picked it up with my bare hands. I deserve a medal.

C stopped screaming went back to taking off her pants.

Up until about a month ago, I’m pretty sure C thought I wasn’t scared of anything. She sometimes says things to me like, “remember when you took that vacuum and you SUCKED that spider RIGHT UP?” Why yes I do, kiddo. And I was scared shitless and I did it anyway.

But C didn’t know I was scared, because I didn’t tell her. In fact, I pretended not to be scared, thinking my fear would make hers worse.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking: I don’t think we are doing our kids any service by pretending not to be scared. Bravery isn’t about the absence of fear. It’s about acknowledging fear, but not giving into it. C is scared of things I wouldn’t expect her to handle, like spiders. But she’s also scared to stand up for herself when a kid takes her lovey. Sometimes, I catch her as she avoids sitting next to another child, already anticipating having her lovey taken.

In the past few weeks, I’ve used incidents like the spider to talk about fear and bravery. I say things like, “YOWZA that was scary! I am so glad that’s over! Were you scared of that spider? I was too!” I also ask her to help me in the process of taking the spider outside*, announcing “We are so brave for doing something scary!” when we’re done.

I’m not asking for an overnight acceptance of spiders (after all, I’ve got almost three decades on her and I still  hate them!), but I’m hoping to use everyday bravery to help her gain confidence, slowly but surely. Up until now, she’s been asked to be brave in instances where she really shouldn’t have to be – like the time she encountered a very pushy goat and couldn’t sleep for weeks – and I’m hoping she’ll learn that you can be cautious and brave.

How do you handle your child’s fears?

 

*For the record, I save almost every spider. I didn’t save the spider in this story because I didn’t have any clothes on, and the situation – as you can tell – was a dire emergency.

2 thoughts on “Teaching Bravery

  1. Brooke says:

    I’m very afraid of flying insects. I’m not sure where it stemmed from, but I *hate* them. With a passion. And that hate has morphed into fear over time. I seem to have transferred that fear into Charlie, by modeling it. My husband tries to guilt me for it, but I don’t necessarily regret it. Here in the country we have red wasps, scorpions, tarantulas, and snakes. I’ve seen them all around the house. I would rather instill a bit of fear and respect for these creatures rather than encourage her curiosity and have her get hurt or worse. Maybe I’m just over-justifying my own behavior.

    • Sara Olsher says:

      Maybe in a past life you were attacked by a swarm of locusts or something? haha – I get it, I think they’re disgusting too. Personally I think this is such a minor thing for your girls. You are such a good role model to your girls as a strong, do-it-yourself woman, and they will learn that from you – I think that’s more valuable than being fearless in the face of flying insects.

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