A long time ago I was fearless. I could swim past the buoys and enjoy the corals of the Red Sea, I could parachute from a plane and calmly drive along the narrow mountain passages in the Caucasus. Yet, with age I became different and stopped enjoying heights, depths and danger and instead learned to coexist with my fears. And then the universe provided me with three boys who are not really afraid of anything - except for maybe darkness and monsters under their beds, and even then, not very much.
So it took me time to differentiate my own fears and my worries for them and to stop projecting my fears (not always successfully) onto my boys.
When I caught myself yet again shouting: " Be careful!" to one of the boys climbing over a tall fence, I caught myself thinking that I was unwittingly broadcasting and actually imposing my fears on my children. So, I took a step aside and paused, and then created a short list of what we, as worried parents, should and shouldn’t do when we are dealing with everyday fears. And here's where I got to (nothing new actually):
1. It is important to validate your feelings.
Calmly share your fear of heights (or depths, rats, dogs, worms) with your children. You don’t need detail necessarily, but want to convey to them that sometimes it is difficult for you to control yourself when they are being so brave (but you will try very hard).
2. Aim to control your actions.
Before shouting: “Stop!”, “It’s too high!” or “Be careful!”, take a pause, exhale, count to five and note on the most objective scale you can just how risky the situation objectively is. Is parental intervention actually required?
3. Make a decision and then act (or don’t act) in accordance with the actual situation at hand.
Of course, if the child is in danger, then we must act and not wait. In other cases, it may be better to remain silent or help the child benefit from the circumstances. After all, phrases like “Be careful” and “What are you doing?”, won’t help children in any event. These phrases are abstract and carry a high emotional charge. They can add tension to the situation. Instead, if intervention is necessary, then it is better to try to make it constructive: “You balance well on this branch, and have you already thought about the way down?”, “You can run very fast! Do you remember yesterday we noticed that the pool tiles were very slippery?”
4. Prevent rather than deal afterwards.
In most cases, you can agree the rules with children in advance and so minimise risk. Riding scooters and bicycles can only be done if wearing a helmet, walking in summer requires a sun hat or cap, climbing up high is ok but we need to avoid that very sharp edge. Children are usually willing and ready to cooperate, especially if they are involved in the creation of the rules.
5. Accept your children’s point of view and their natural desire to explore the world.
Agree on the consequences in advance (see the tip above about prevention) but do not punish them for your fears. “How many times have I told you, I knew that was going to happen!” - who will feel better after this phrase? (and keeping your mouth shut can turn out to be the most difficult, since such phrases usually come out automatically!) And one more thing, If you can’t react rationally, then allow yourself not to connect. Allow yourself not to go diving if you are scared of depths, don’t go rock climbing if you don’t like heights, unless, of course, you decide to face your fears. But this is a whole different story. And then assess the risks objectively and allow your kids to have fun under the supervision of someone who you trust.