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Unsolicited Advice: Let Your Children Face Their Fears on Their Own

My daughter started high school this week. She’s a freshman after being away from school for nearly two years (we homeschooled through COVID). That first day of sending your child into the concrete high school jungle is unsettling. We all know what high school is like; what high school kids are like; what high school girls are like. We remember the fear of starting a new school and how the awkwardness of puberty layered insecurity on top of insecurity.

It is excruciating to imagine your child feeling the same thing. Her friend’s mother and I commiserated over the nerves we were feeling on behalf of our daughters.

“I just wish I could take all this fear on myself and go do this day for her!” she wailed.

I laughed. I knew how she felt. I knew what she meant. But in my head I wondered- if a magic genie suddenly offered me the chance to take on this nerve-wracking day in place of my daughter, would I actually do it?

I think it’s important to let our children face their fears. Overcoming fear, learning from fear, is a vital life lesson. It is better to let them discover those lessons in the relative safety of your own home and your own arms than to shelter them from discomfort and force them to learn those lessons under harsher, more adult circumstances in the future.

Luckily for our daughters we really had no choice but to push them into the unknown landscape of high school.

But in how many other circumstances are we too quick to jump to the aid of our children in circumstances we know they should be navigating themselves? Our instinct to protect our children is right and good, but it can become an idol and when it does we may find ourselves robbing our kids of necessary lessons.

My son and I are both involved in the film industry. I’ve taken him on sets from time to time and we’ve worked on crews together. Last weekend he joined an independent film crew in Los Angeles, about a 35 mile drive from our home. It was his first set without me, which meant he would have to drive into the city all by himself for the first time ever.

“I’m a little scared,” he admitted. Immediately my mind flew to all the adjustments I could make in my schedule to drive him there and back for the 2-day shoot. It was instinctual. He was scared and I wanted to find a way to help him not be scared.

Reality set in in the form of my husband, who (matter-of-factly as usual) said, “He has to learn sometime. He’ll be fine.” Then he unceremoniously walked out of the room, like it was not a big deal that we were throwing our 19-year-old son into the wilds of L.A. with nothing but a Kia Sportage and a AAA card.

Of course, he was right. Everything in me wanted to do this for my son, but when we said goodbye on his first day, I knew that a young man who longs to be in the film industry damn well better know how to drive himself around Los Angeles, as intimidating as it may be.

I felt all his nerves. I prayed all my prayers. He came home just fine, excited and energetic about his duties from the day and explaining to me that they basically made him the gopher for the day. Not only did he drive himself to set, he ended up spending the whole day driving around Los Angeles. And we was fine! He did great, and now he’ll never have to wonder if he can navigate the city by car on his own.

Now he knows.

We must give our children the chance to know their own strength and resilience. It’s just as scary for us to let them go as it is for them to step out on their own, but we would be hobbling them to do it any other way.

Learn to tolerate life’s fears with your child. Be the person who makes them feel like they can be trusted to learn from failure and ultimately succeed. Don’t be the person who cripples your grown children by never allowing them to discover their own strength of character through the conquering of fear.

That is our job. Sometimes it may feel like our children are our only purpose, but we can let that purpose makes us selfish. We trick ourselves into believing that we’re just loving our children when we erase all the obstacles for them, but what we are doing is loving our own peace of mind.

Fear is one of life’s greatest teachers and greatest motivators. Don’t deny your child the opportunity to find out just how strong they are.