In my last post I wrote about chivalry and I so enjoyed the discussions that blossomed out of that post. If you'd like to join in, you can find them here. While most of us find it easier to teach our sons courtesy and generosity, the common thread was that we were somewhat stumped when it came to cultivating valor. How do we acknowledge and validate our sons' fears and apprehensions, yet still encourage them to be brave and courageous?
Plausible Fears vs. Implausible Fears
First of all, I think it's important to teach our sons the difference between plausible and implausible fears. I almost named this section legitimate and illegitimate fears, but I think those terms invalidate our sons' fears. By labeling them plausible and implausible, we are teaching our sons to discern what is and is not worth their time. For example, a plausible fear is that their teeth might hurt while the dentist is examining them. This fear is absolutely within the realm of possibility. An implausible fear would be that the dentist will turn into and evil green alien and jackhammer their teeth out of their mouth. It just won't happen.
Talk About It
"Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself." - Albus Dumbledore.
It's true. The more we stuff the nagging fear down, pushing it beyond our realm of consciousness and refusing to even utter the presence of a fear, the larger the fear grows and the harder it is to overcome. I want my son to be comfortable with the words, "I'm afraid" and "I'm scared." We were hard-wired with a fear system to help keep us safe and quite honestly, I think my son needs to listen to his fears a little more often, especially when considering jumping from high perches or speeding on a bicycle. It is okay to be scared, but sometimes we must be scared and do it anyways. A few pointers are as follows:
- Don't label fears as "silly" or your son as a "baby" for being afraid of certain things. Even as an adult, I don't like dark basements and spiders will make me squirm from across the room. Yes, I know that I can just squish them, but still, one too many times watching Arachnophobia with my brother as a child.
- Don't say you're too old to be afraid of that or become exasperated when they are fearful.
- Do encourage them to pray. It can be as simply as "Dear Jesus, help me not to be afraid," or as elaborate as they need.
Facing the Fear
Then there are those fears that must be faced down and trampled, but not always in one stampede. Many wars with fear can be won by triumphantly being victorious over tinier battles. Break down the fear into bite-size chunks and then praise him above and beyond what you would feel as normal when he displays courage. My son was afraid of the dentist. Our first visit a year and a half ago was fraught with tears and terror. The hygienist took one look at my son and knew there was no way we were going to get a cleaning done that day, but she was politely insistent that he at least sit in the chair and let her look in his mouth. I encouraged him that it was indeed safe and that they would not do anything other than look in his mouth (FYI, don't promise this and then surprise your son with a "sneak attack." That kind of action will only cause a lack of trust between you.) and see what was up. The whole time he was in the chair both the hygienist and I were applauding his bravery. He was still scared, but he held still and did what he had to do and that, my friend, is courage. Now, a year and a half later we have fabulous dental appointments at which he isn't scared or apprehensive.
Many times your son needs to hear you, his mom, supporting him. Sometimes all your son needs is to know that you are in his corner rooting for him and that he will come out on top. What a privilege and an honor to be cheering him on...
What are some ways you have been able to encourage bravery? What strategies can you share about facing fears (either your own or that of your sons'?)