THE BLOG
01/14/2014 12:47 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2014

Are Our Fears Crippling Our Children?

Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

A friend of mine recently posted pictures of her five and nine year old with their homemade bows and arrows made of sticks, strings and feathers. Boys will be boys. But what impressed me most was the picture of their dad with his "real" bow and arrow teaching the boys the proper use of a very serious tool.

How many times have we gasped when we've found a young child handling something that can do them harm, wrestled it away from them and put it away to a safe place where it stays until they're old enough to handle it? And do we consider when that might be? When are children old enough to handle scissors, knives, and matches and how, as parents, do we make that decision?

Giving in to our own fears and taking over difficult or dangerous tasks sends them the message that they're incapable of accomplishing these things on their own. Children pick up on these messages when they're very young. -- Rosemary Strembicki

Some children are curious at very young ages. They're drawn to the lit candles on the mantle and the screwdrivers in the kitchen drawer, so parents childproof their homes and lock everything away. We envision the stories we've heard about children setting houses on fire while playing with matches or falling with sharp objects and doing irreparable harm. But, in the process, our fears are denying them the opportunity to learn and master skills that they can build on and provide confidence in facing the challenges that life will present to them. None of us get through life without challenges so why not start giving our children the tools, literally and figuratively, to help them meet those challenges?

Standing by our children, helping them problem solve and teaching them the skills to keep them safe offers all kinds of opportunity to build our relationships with our children. It sends them the message that we respect them, enjoy being with them and will always be a resource to them when they find themselves in over their heads. Giving in to our own fears and taking over difficult or dangerous tasks sends them the message that they're incapable of accomplishing these things on their own. Children pick up on these messages when they're very young.

It takes time. It's often easier to lock away harmful objects, replace them with toy facsimiles and leave them to their imaginations. But it's so much more powerful to sit with them, let them know that this is something to be shared with adults and let them experiment, under our supervision, before we put them away in a safe place. It's just the beginning in gradually handing over the tasks of adulthood that form the foundation of independence and self-confidence. And it gives us a chance to pass on our thoughts and feelings about what they might encounter.

The skills that we need to be successful in the world aren't entirely learned in a classroom through reading and studying. The most valuable lessons are learned through experiences both good and bad. If our fears interfere with those experiences the opportunities are lost and the lessons never learned.

It's never too early to start teaching our children how to manage the dangers in life. Every parent needs to consider how and when that will happen. Some of us will start very early with great caution and some risk. Others will wait until the risk has diminished and they have more confidence in their children. What's most important is being aware of the decisions we're making. We need to consider our children's drives, needs and capabilities and balance that with our concerns and personal fears. Knowing ourselves, understanding our children and working within our family belief systems are the best tools in making decisions for our children. Knowing when to step back is the challenge in helping our children succeed and overcoming our fears.

You can view other articles, videos, or contact Rosemary at www.aplacetoturnto.org

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