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How to Face Fear

Often times as Parents, Caregivers and Educators of Children, we want to ensure that our children are happy.

We want to protect them and keep them safe.

We want them to not have to face the same fears, or experience the same pains and traumas that we experienced as kids.

We want to stop them from repeating the same mistakes that we made.

After all, there are so many unknowns in this world...

So many things that could and do go wrong...

We need to protect them.

We must protect them...and above all else, ensure that they are HAPPY...because many of us deem happiness as the most important thing in life...

We think that we are doing our children a favor by overly protecting them and creating a life and experiences that are devoid of risk-taking, mistake -making, resilience-grit building, and fear-facing.

Perhaps we are mistaken in our belief that happiness is the most important thing in life and in our fear-based need to control and protect our children at all costs?

It has been my experience, however, that the primary purposes of our incarnation here on earth are our healing, growth, learning, heart opening and soul's evolution and everything else is indeed secondary.

So how do we as parents, educators and caregivers of children ensure that they have growth and healing opportunities without traumatizing them, putting them in harms way or forcing them to do something that they are deathly afraid of?

It definitely depends on the situation, because we want to teach children that their feelings are messengers that are designed to communicate to them and keep them safe, while on the other hand, ensuring that they take risks that are age and developmentally appropriate so that we can help them gain the life skills that they need not only to survive but thrive in a world where most things are uncertain and the only constant is change.

In our attempts to shield them from feeling or experiencing challenges, pain or failure, we are actually triggering and creating beliefs and stories for and with our children that they are not safe, the world is not safe and that they are not capable or strong enough to make it or go through "hard things."

The belief system that we must "protect our children" has actually morphed into a facet of parenting, which includes helicopter parenting, but moreover a macrocosm of vast situations and experiences in which we both overly exert our control and influence upon our children, while simultaneously incessantly intervening and inserting our will into their lives in our best efforts to "protect them."

We justify our actions, words and behaviors, claiming we are acting in these ways in order to shield them from pain, making mistakes or doing anything they are afraid of or that might cause them pain or trauma of any kind. After all, we just want them to be happy. While yes, it is a fact that there are many unknowns out in the world today that children face on a daily basis that they do need protection from, by disallowing them to experience pain, failure, making mistakes, persevering and practicing in order to get good at something, and God forbid, not being the "best at something and everything", we are adding to their fear and anxiety. When we allow them to quit, give up, not even try, or to run away from situations, experiences or people that trigger their fear, we are sending the message to our children that there is something to be afraid of, rather than a challenge or problem that can be overcome, dealt with or persevered through. By believing in our children's fear and allowing them to believe in their fear, their limiting beliefs and stories, we are making the fear real, and stronger, which makes it harder for the child to face their fears and anxiety the next time it gets triggered.

This inability to face their fears, believe they can survive them and persevere, is often times the beginning of anxiety disorders in children, which can result when parents, caregivers or educators have excessive worry, anxiety and fears that they either talk about, act out or project onto their children.

As I spoke about in my previous Whole Self, Whole Child Reels on Anxiety in Children, which you can find on Instagram, Youtube and Tik Tok @wholeselfwholechild, I recommended using the following Parental Tools if your child is experiencing and processing through anxiety:

  1. Sacred Journal Writing- Whenever we or our children are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, we can use our journals to free-form write and get out all of our feelings and worries through journaling and writing so that we are not holding it within our bodies, or spinning stories of fear-based possibilities. The goal is to release the feelings, stories, beliefs and the emotions that are contributing to the anxiety and to give them a voice, so that we can help move the fear out of our bodies and help calm down our physical, mental, emotional bodies and nervous systems.

  2. Parent Models- How you, as parents, educators and caregivers manage your stress and model for your children stress management, including your own self-regulation and the language you use, are big contributors to helping support children in regulating their own levels of anxiety. Practice mindfulness in thought word and deed when it comes to your own fears, worries and anxieties.

In this Blog, I am writing about the 3rd tool for helping manage anxiety and fear, and that is the tool of FACING YOUR FEAR.

In situations when the fear or anxiety they are feeling is not life or death, one of the ways to help ourselves and our children who are facing new situations, people or experiences that trigger anxiety or fear is to help ourselves and our children to FACE OUR FEAR.

For both adults and children, when our fear or anxiety (which is a form of fear), gets triggered, that also means that our sympathetic nervous system has also gotten triggered, which for must of us, will look like some form of fight, flight or freeze....which basically means if we can, a lot of us will run away from whatever situation, person, animal, place or thing is triggering our anxiety.

What happens, however, is that if we end up running away from everything and everyone that triggers our fear or anxiety, we will end up living a small, sheltered life, afraid to take risks to challenge ourselves, to go on adventures or to live our life to the fullest!

What we want to do is to help children face their fears (as long as it is not going to harm them or someone else)! Below are a few tried and true tips on helping your child face their fears

  1. Connect and Reflect- Connecting with your children through physical touch is one way to help them face their fears. When your child is expressing fear or something they are anxious about you can comfort them through hugging, holding their hand, rubbing your hand down their spine to help, or activating their Vagus Nerve to help calm their nervous system (see my Vagus Nerve Reel on Instagram or Tik Tok). Oftentimes, just the physical presence of a trusted adult, parent or caregiver, is all the courage children need to step forward into a new, unknown or "scary" situation, knowing someone they love and trust will be there to catch them when and if they fall. Combining Connecting with Reflecting is the golden key to helping your child know that they are safe, loved, and that you hear, empathize and have compassion for whatever feelings are present in them at any moment at any time.

  2. Reflect: When your child expresses a worry, anxiety or fear, not shut them down by saying "It's ok," or negating their fear by saying "There is nothing to worry about." For them, their fear and their experiences are real and need to be validated and reflected back to them to in a way that let's them know that you hear and understand what is present for them and what is being triggered within them for their deeper healing and growth. Once children feel connected and reflected back to, or heard, often they are ready to move forward and try, do or experience something that is triggering anxiety and fear in them.

  3. Desensitization- When your child is ready to try something new, perhaps you read them a story about something they are afraid of, you act out the story using stuffed animals, you tell stories about how you faced challenging, "scary" situations, things, and people and got through it. Through the slow and sensitive introduction to the child the stimulus that is triggering their fear or anxiety, little by little, or sometimes rather quickly, they will feel their fear while simultaneously facing it...and through this desensitization to the fear stimuli, they will develop skills like perseverance, resilience, grit, tenacity. Furthermore, each time they face a fear and conquer it, they will feel more emboldened each time they face their fear or encounter a new, or "scary" person, situation or thing.

  4. Preparing children before a new situation, experience, fear-triggering experience- One way to reduce anxiety, worry and fear is to begin to recognize what your child's triggers are and then to help prepare your children about potentially "triggering" encounter along with different possible outcomes or scenarios so they know what to expect. Oftentimes, anxiety in children as well as in adults, stems from fear or the unknown. Through the communication and preparation of your child for what is to come, or may be expected, you are helping the reduce their fear and anxiety of the unknown as well as you can help them...

  5. Become Solution- Oriented Thinkers: Whenever your child is feeling anxious or afraid, one way to help empower them and provide them with a internal locus of control, a feeling that they can actually affect change and outcomes in their lives, is to help them come up with possible solutions to the things they are afraid of. Whenever your child comes to you with a fear or anxiety, first connect, and reflect, but also ask them the question," What is a possible solution," to whatever fear, worry or feel anxious over! If they are younger, you will most likely have to help them come up with solutions when they are facing a challenging or scary situation, but as they get older, they will automatically begin to train their brain to think of possible solutions in the face of fear, rather than to go into fight, flight or freeze. Coming up with solutions helps children to feel empowered, experience an internal locus of control, as well as build new neuropathways and helps to create solution-oriented, critical thinkers whom feel empowered rather than helpless and hopeless in the face of fear and anxiety.

When we provide children with the tools and the right conditions for them to face their fears in healthy, safe and empowered ways, we are teaching them essential skills and life lessons that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

I'd say it's worth the risk to take a step back and allow them the freedom to live, breathe into and face their fears, to make mistakes, to fail, to fall at times...because it is only through the facing and surviving of their fears and anxieties that they will gain the necessary life skills, lessons and growth to be the future change makers, leaders, explorers and inventors that the world needs them to be!

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