A mother and her adorable 4-year-old son recently came in for counseling. The mother and I spoke about how to help him transition away from his favorite activities without having tantrums. As we continued talking, I spoke with her about the importance of taking her own thoughts captive. I told her,
“Just because he has tantrums at 4 does not mean he is going to become an emotionally troubled adult. This is all just part of the developmental process.”
The sweet boy started nodding his head and said, “Please listen to her, you worry too much.” We both laughed and marveled at his wisdom.
If you sometimes create a tragic mental story when your child misbehaves, you are a normal parent. Our fear of who they might become helps us handle difficult situations. When your child takes a piece of candy from the checkout line, your fear of him becoming a thief forces you to walk him to the cashier to give back the candy. When your daughter is disrespectful to adults, you make her write an apology note so that she thinks twice about how she speaks to people. Helping our children take the time to correct their mistakes is one of the most important experiences in the learning process. Having a little fear of who our children will become is not a problem. However, parenting from fear is detrimental to the emotional health of our children and ourselves.
The problem with parenting from fear is that you define their future by their current actions. For example, your teenage son may not have a lot of friends. If you are parenting FROM fear, you take this behavior and begin to think your son is antisocial or has emotional problems. You may even begin to imagine your son is on the path to becoming a felon. Let’s be honest, your son may simply be an introvert, or he may simply prefer different activities than most of his peers. If you let your fear drive you as a parent, you risk becoming a consistently nagging parent riddled with anxiety and dissatisfaction. Instead, become a proactive parent that truly finds joy in the highs and lows of the process.
Proactive parenting is when you help your children learn all the skills they need to be successful in life. Proactive parenting is noticing that your child may not have the confidence to engage socially. Proactive parents find social activities that are enjoyable to their son, they go out of their way to give him various social experiences, they make sure he is not sitting in front of a video game living a virtual social life, they make sure he knows how to talk to people of all ages in a variety of settings, they help him find a job that expects him to be social, etc.
How can you stop parenting from fear and start being proactive?
1. Stay present in the moment.
If your child is crying over something silly, do not let it become anything more than a momentary heart break.
2.Observe, listen, and encourage them to share the thoughts behind their actions.
Do not worry if there is not thought, their frontal lobes are not formed and sometimes it is simply an inability to control their impulses. Sometimes though, their thoughts may be appropriate even if their actions are not.
3. Learn to appreciate who God created them to be.
Help them discover their unique personality, gifts, strengths, and weaknesses. Do not waste a moment worrying about who they are not when you could be enjoying who they are.
4. To help you fully understand what is developmentally appropriate, surround yourself with families in a similar age and stage.
You will be surprised at the number of things you fear that are completely normal.