Shifting Out of Fear
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about fear. I’ve been noticing how many of my thoughts about parenting and my kids are fear-based. Why is H acting out more...am I doing something wrong? I wish he didn’t have so much anxiety. Why does he have such a low frustration tolerance? Is it due to his sensory issues or is it my fault? Am I not setting clear enough boundaries? Have I permanently damaged him? Is he going to be ok???
Sometimes it feels like a full-time job processing and managing my parenting-related fears!
Dr. Shefali Tsabary, author of The Awakened Family (one of the best parenting books I’ve read), asserts that most of the problems we experience in raising our children stem from fear. She says, "Our fearfulness is extremely detrimental to our children and ultimately the cause of much of their undesirable behavior.”
When I first read this, I panicked and thought, Crap! H’s undesirable behavior is my fault!
Then I read, “Fear is baseless, and far from needing to be afraid, we ought to realize that we have every reason to believe in our children and trust in their future because we live in a universe that is intelligent in its purpose, co-creating life's circumstances with us, each circumstance designed for our growth and expansion."
Ah. Deep. Breath.
Rather than reacting to my fearful thoughts and fueling their flames with more fear, I can use them as guides. I can view fear-based thoughts as arrows that are pointing me directly to the problematic emotional patterns and unresolved hurts that need my attention. The more intense the fear, the stronger the indication that the direction it’s leading me is a place where my biggest potential for growth resides.
Dr. Shefali’s assertion that we live in a universe intelligent in its purpose requires a leap of faith, but regardless of our spiritual beliefs, choosing to frame our circumstances and our children's behaviors as opportunities for growth is an empowering stance that sets the stage for a more connected and authentic relationship, both with ourselves and with our children.
So, how exactly do we do this? What does it even mean to shift out of fear?
First, we have to deconstruct what’s going on when we get triggered by our child. What exactly was the triggering behavior and what fears did it ignite?
With H, I’m often triggered by his difficulty self-regulating, his low frustration tolerance and his rigidity. Based on his challenges, I fear that he’s going to struggle in school, struggle with his relationships and, in general, just have a harder time in life!
Once you’ve identified your fears, the next step is to separate them from the current situation and own them rather than projecting them onto your child. Fear clouds our perceptions. Our job is to come alongside our kids, join with them and guide them. We can’t do this when we’re bombarded by fears and judgments about their behavior.
Owning our fears can be tough. We feel that our fears about our kids are valid. I really am worried about H based on the challenges I mentioned. But, if I take a step back, and really look at my fears, I realize they are about me, not him.
Truth be told, I struggle with self-regulation (I get easily flooded by my emotions), I tend to have a low frustration tolerance (cut to me having a meltdown when I’m stuck in traffic), and I can be rigid (my husband’s biggest complaint about me is my lack of spontaneity!).
I have self-judgment about these qualities, so when I see them in H, I react from a place of fear instead of love. Any quality we judge or disown in ourselves will elicit fear upon seeing it in someone else. As my mentor Allison LaTona says, “If you want to change your child, change yourself.”
After you identify your fears and separate them from your child’s behavior, the next step is to figure out how you can shift. For me, the first area of focus is my self-judgment. When I have more compassion towards myself, I naturally have less fear about and more empathy towards H and I’m better able to tune into what’s really going on with him.
It's not easy being a kid! There are a lot of big emotions to navigate. Think of how hard it is for most adults to navigate big emotions and then multiply this for young kids who have neither the cognitive nor the emotional maturity of adults. Then, multiply it even more if your child has sensory issues.
When we own our fears, put them aside, and join in our child’s experience with empathy and compassion, we’re able to convey that we feel what they’re going through, we get it, and we’re here to help them through it. With this felt understanding, our kids are able to move through difficult emotions with more ease.
The next time you feel fears coming on strong, try taking a moment to either ask yourself or journal about these questions:
What was my main trigger with ________ ’s behavior ?
What fears come up around this behavior ?
Where do these fears stem from ?
Is there something from my own childhood that triggered these fears ?
What would it look like to own these fears ?
How could I have responded differently to ________ ?
Renowned psychiatrist, Dan Siegel, says the best predictor of a child’s well-being is a parent’s self-understanding. When we shift the focus back on to ourselves and deconstruct our parenting-related fears, we not only strengthen our self-awareness, we also create space for better attunement to our kids.