Growing into bravery

I admit it – I’m afraid of bats – at least when they are residing in my house.  “They’re only in the walls” I’m told –  until they’re not.  Until I’m sitting at my computer one night and a bat swoops over my head.  I know – it only seems like they are going to bombard your head – until …who knows, their “radar” fails.

So, I do what anyone might do under the circumstances.  I hit the floor – scream “Bat in the house” to my husband and crawl to the safety of our bedroom, closing the door behind me.

Many fears in our children are as easy to recognize as my own fear of bats.  Our children might be fearful of dogs, thunderstorms, snakes,  the dark, monsters in the closet, swallowing pills, the emergency siren that goes off the first Monday morning of every month.  Often these fears seem completely irrational to adults,  but in order to help our children cope and grow, they do need to be acknowledged and respected as real.

Because these types of fears might appear “unreasonable” to us as parents, this may lead us into telling our children “don’t be silly” instead of showing understanding and acknowledgement for a child’s genuine feelings.

As parents, though, we want our children to be brave and that is why we might try so hard to insist they pet the dog even as they are cowering behind us.  It would be more helpful to say to a child, “it will not hurt you but I can see you are not ready to touch it.”  They will know, then, that we understand how they feel and our understanding alone will add to their eventual courage.   If we carry our screaming child into the swimming pool thinking that we’re just sure he will love it once he gets in, we are not showing respect for her feelings.

Penelope Leach, one of my personal favorite child development experts,  psychologist and author of Your Baby and Child From Birth to Age Five tells parents to  “sort out in your mind the very real difference between being brave and being fearless.  Being brave means doing or facing something frightening.  You may ask your child to be brave about an injection or a thunderstorm.  If you demand bravery, the least you can do is to acknowledge that he is afraid, show that you understand the feelings and make it clear that you recognize and appreciate the effort your child is making to control them.  You will not help your child to behave bravely if you refuse to allow expressions of fear.  You will not help your child to behave bravely next time if you deny that there was anything to be brave about in the first place.”

So when you are faced with a reluctant child, afraid of whatever, out of respect for her (and taking stock perhaps of your own nagging insecurities) allow her time to assimilate, to take baby steps and find the “brave” inside her.

As for me, I think I could, if faced with a bat in my house and home alone, rise to the occasion to be “brave” and figure out a solution on my own.

But it is sure nice to have the support and acknowledgement from others that my fear is understood and even shared.
(By the way, I do love what bats do for us – eating all those pesky insects – just not in my house, please!)

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