If you don’t already know this about me I must tell you that I am a strict mama. I am a firm mama. I am a mama bear that demands respect and will push my cubs to be better. I can also be a cuddly and loving mama when needed but I have to admit that I tend to lean toward the pull-yourself-up- by-your-boot-straps techniques of parenting.
So when my young son was showing signs of fear over the smallest of issues pushy mama bear emerged. My then preschooler was too timid to even slide down a slide. He wouldn’t even do the normal kid things, on a very age appropriate playground, that others around him were doing. He was so scared of what could happen that it blocked him from doing the very thing that, deep down, he really wanted to do.
I started to realize that I would have to make him do these things in order to get over his fear. I recognized that he needed a mama that was going to push him off the ledge of fear instead of trying to quietly coax him to face his fears. So I started to do just that. If he sat at the top of a slide in fear of sliding down then I would pull his leg to get him started.
And you know what? He was just fine.
Having that push, or pull in this case, allowed him to safely experience the slide which showed him how delightful a slide can be. Yes, there was always screaming involved in his literal terror of actually letting go of the top of the slide but I realized that he needed me to be the parent that made him do these safe things.
Now, am I touting that you should push your kids to do something they absolutely do not want to do? No, but I knew that he was safe and that he would want to do it again if I just helped him with that first step. And he did. He went on that slide again and again without needing my push. By pushing him to do it the first time, I showed him how much fun he would be missing out on in the future.
A few months later, when we were at a different park with a fireman pole, I decided to help him overcome his fear of doing that too. Oh the screaming. You would have thought that I was killing the kid. But I knew that he needed to know how to do it and that he would actually like going down the pole after he did it once. I stood there and made him go down that pole after about 10 minutes of coaxing before issuing the ultimatum: “We’re not leaving until you do this.” Oh the look in his eyes when he finally did it! He was so dang proud of himself that I started to tear up because I was so proud of him too. His fear was gone and he went down that pole for a solid 10 minutes afterward.
Now, many years later, I was reminiscing with him about how I would have to push him to do things on the playground that he was too scared to do. He laughed as he remembered the time as well and shook his head in amazement that he was ever to afraid to do it. He then told me that a few weeks after the famous fireman pole incident, a kid on the playground pushed him out of the way on that very same playground and he had to use the pole in order to safely get to the ground. Had I not pushed him to do it right the first time then he probably wouldn’t have been able to use it effectively when he needed it most.
Fast forward to this morning and I found myself having to push my preschool daughter to do the monkey bars at the playground. I helped carry her along the bars at first but then realized that she wasn’t even trying to touch the bars at all. Knowing that she would be safe, I had her hang and fall the few feet to the ground while I caught her. Was she afraid? Yes. Did she die on her fall to the heavily mulched ground? No. If I don’t teach my children how to do something safely, and prove to them that they can do it without getting hurt, then how will they ever get over the fear of doing it on their own?
Pushing your kids to help them overcome their fear can be hard. There is a fine line there of truly helping a child overcome a fear and traumatizing them in the process. It is hard to know which side of the coin you are on in the moment. However, I think that fear in a child can be catastrophic. Allowing your child to know that they are safe when they are with you, despite the scary thing you are asking them to do, creates trust between parent and child. It also shows your kid that you believe in them and that you know that they can do it on their own.
Kristina Phelan is a former Spokane-area resident now living in Illinois. www.mamabear moxie.com. Visit her website at www.mamabearmoxie.com.
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