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Teach Your Child to Look Fear in the Eye - Day 24

Have you felt the metallic taste of fear in your mouth recently?  I bet you are achingly familiar with the feeling of putting one heavy foot in front of the other when every step is painful.  If you're an adult I think I can predict with 99% certainty that memories of specific moments just flooded your mind.  Dealing with fear and pain are important markers of adulthood. They define our character and chart our courses.

We tend to be able to be brave in our own lives but timid as parents We struggle to teach the skills required for dealing with pain and fear to our children.  It's a well-intentioned omission, but a dangerous one.  As we spend our energy creating magical childhood memories inside a bubble that is free of fear and pain, we can accidentally set our kids up. Trouble will come. If they aren't expecting it, it will hit them like a speeding semi they didn't see coming as they're skipping across the street to the ice cream truck.
 An experience like that is not the welcome to adult-hood any of us mean to craft for our children.  We want kids who know what it takes to lock their knees, grit their teeth, and rub some dirt on it.

We want kids who can see deep enough into life to know the truth. Kids who know sometimes it's worth it to choose to walk through a hurricane, even if an injury is inevitable. We want them confident they have what it takes to remain strong and still be standing on the other side.

Teaching our kids how to stand with quaking knees, to stay when it hurts to not run away, demands that we figure this thing out ourselves.  If we're honest, many of us realize that we've never forced our gut instinct out of "FLEE" mode when we sense pain or feel fearful.  Our knee-jerk reaction is that if it might hurt, it should be avoided.

Let me tell you this, Mommas.  Letting your modus operandi remain "AVOID PAIN" will not lead you to a pain-free life.  As you burn precious energy trying to avoid pain you'll back into pain you didn't see and wallow through it instead of walking through pain to a goal you chose.  Life is painful people.  That's the truth.  It's time to get over being upset by that, grow up, and start living strong.

I remember when this idea dawned on me.  I was 16 and choosing to do something that I knew would cause me pain was a mind-bending idea.  My moment came during a phone call with my parents.  Me in tears in the everglades of Florida just before heading off to Germany on a summer-long missions/construction trip, them deciding to peel the bubble back and give me a backbone instead of protection.  My girlfriend and I had signed up for this mission trip seeing the adventure part much more clearly than the excruciating hardness. I cried through the whole phone call, but my parents were able to maintain their long-term vision and give me what I needed most.

From this vantage point as an adult, now I  can read the look on my parents' faces as they waved goodbye to their suburban, private-schooled, middle-class girl dressed in clothes from The Limited.  Their guts must have been wrestling with feelings mine wasn't yet, the tremor of pain they knew was ahead.  They chose to let me go.  And then, I called home in tears after two weeks of tent-living, swamp-bathing, body-numbing boot camp, wondering if I could make it any longer.

They chose to tell me I could.  Their words took me by the shoulders and turned me back to face the goal on the other side of fear and pain.  They didn't sugar-coat anything.  They agreed that it would be hard and warned me that it might actually get harder when we arrived in Germany.  Then they held up reminders of who I wanted to be and promised that the goal was worth whatever pain it would take to get there.  They had confidence that I could bear up under whatever fear and pain I would face throughout the rest of the summer, and that I would come home a different, stronger girl.

 Through the phone line, they smacked me on the butt and said, "Sure it's gonna hurt.  But you can outlast it, and you should!"  

It didn't take the whole summer to make me a different person.  I walked away from that phone into a candle-light commissioning service where I used my own two feet to choose to walk into my fear and accept whatever pain might accompany the mission God had for my summer.  Suddenly I felt a world of possibilities open up for me like the expanse of the night sky.  If avoiding pain and paying attention to fear were removed from my decision-making process, possibilities felt limitless.

It's a powerful thing to not be afraid of pain.  You can suddenly consider things that pursuit of comfort would discount at the starting gate.  You can have adventures and feel the rush of overcoming.  Big dreams God puts in your heart can make your eyes widen with anticipation rather than causing your belly to clench with worry.

It really all comes down to how much we trust God to be big and in charge, doesn't it?  He says that He took the fear and sting out of death for us.  Do we believe it?  We act like it?  Do we live like Christ's death on the cross really was perfect love that cast out fear?  If pain and fear came as a result of the sin in the garden, and Jesus came to redeem us from that awfulness and buy us back, then His children should be fighting back instead of cowering.

One of my favorite Mom Mantras is, "You can do anything for (insert period of time)!" I started saying it during the trips we take with our high school group.  We value teaching kids to test their limits and do hard things so we take semi-yearly trips with them that we actually call "stress trips."  We hike and backpack and canoe and portage with the purpose of helping students push themselves and discover their limits aren't where they thought they were.  Most of our teens take one of these trips with us, but I never graduate, so I keep taking them every four years.  As we pull into base camp each time, I usually whisper to myself, "You can do anything for a week." That mantra has power and truth for almost every challenge you or your child face.  Most challenges are temporary and it helps to remind yourself that you can do whatever it takes for a period of time.

We can raise strong adults by giving our kids chances to test their strength when they're little and the stakes are low!  They're never too small to find some metal in their backbones.  Look for ways to challenge them to do things that make them afraid and take some risks while you're holding their hand.

Let the goal of being strong and brave be the only reason for some of the things you do with your kids.  It's a worthy goal all by itself.

Help them try the monkey bars that fascinate but scare them.  Yes, they might fall, they might skin their knee, but so what?

Require your kids to take one bite of new foods that gross them out.  You won't die from one bite of anything. (Well, except poison, but I wouldn't consider that a food!)  If people somewhere in the world eat this and even like it, my kids and I can survive one bite even if it makes us gag.  Give your kids plenty of chances to learn that they'll survive doing things that they don't want to do!

Ride the roller coaster with your kid even if they're afraid.  One time.  They don't have to love it or become an addict - they need to know that they can handle two minutes of fear and come out on the other end alive.

And don't sugarcoat life to trick them into not worrying.  Getting a cavity filled might hurt, so what?  It takes less than an hour and it's not going to kill you.  That's what your child needs to hear from you.  They need to know the truth - you might feel pain in the next hour, but it's only an hour, you've got what it takes to deal with it and you won't be alone.  It's ok to cry, but it's not ok to avoid painful things that are good for you.  Bravery comes with tears streaming down its face.  Let's be brave.

Keep your eyes peeled, Mommas, for things you can do, hand in hand, to practice dealing with fear and pain.  It is not your job to give them a pain-free childhood.  You know that kind of life comes with handicaps.  It is your job to help them practice being people who can stand straight and look fear in the eye, rub some dirt on the wound, and go on. Their goals matter more than the pain.

You are your child's guide to life.  You are teaching them how to make decisions, what to value, and what to shy away from.  Let's raise a generation that is strong. Young adults who know fear is not to be respected but managed. Who aren't willing to let anything turn them away from God's grand plans for them!

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  1. This is sooo important. It brings to mind the Nelson Mandela quote, "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." Thanks!

  2. Thanks for reading. Writing this made me realize just how passionately I feel about building toughness into our kids!!

  3. Lori,
    How do you handle this with your 2 newest family members? I am REALLY struggling with our 3 from Ethiopia. They have no pain tolerance, and I'm torn to know how to help them.
    Thanks for your help!


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