Doing Family Right

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Parenting: Overcoming Parenting Panic

Facing the Fears of Raising Children in the 21st Century

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. Things have changed a ton since you were raised. It’s a really difficult and complicated time to bring kids into this world. Let’s be honest: there are a lot of scary things that can happen to kids these days.

But you desperately want to do it right! Whose advice can you trust? You don’t want to be an average parent, you want to be a great one so you can project your children from a ton of perils.

Check these out. Aren’t these possibilities enough to make you panic?

As babies, they could stop breathing in their sleep, fail to thrive, get strangled by their soother strap, get dropped, be slow in development or catch a rare infectious disease.

As toddlers, they could swallow a small toy, pull furniture down on themselves, get their head stuck in the banister, fall down the stairs, run into the middle of the road, burn themselves on the stove, or get bitten by another kid.

As children, they could get lost in the store, crash their bike for a ton of stitches, get cut from a sports team, get abducted by a stranger, or have their lunch money stolen by schoolyard bullies.

As teens, they could get mixed up with the wrong crowd, get into pornography on the internet, crash your car, get hooked on drugs and booze, or get deeply hurt messing around sexually.

As young adults they could make stupid choices, marry the wrong person, choose the wrong career, get way in debt, or move too far away for you to help and guide. Then, just as you think you may be out of the woods at last, they start giving you grandkids!  You’re back at square one again and the panic for the next generation sets in.

No matter what stage we are in, as parents, we have to face our fears. If we don’t deal with them properly, we can either become overprotective and stifling, or the opposite, disengaged and careless. Overcoming these fears helps prevent poor parenting decisions. To help you face your parenting fears, here are some things that I think are critical.

1. Be Cautious, Not Psychotic

As parents charged with the task of guiding our children through a sometimes hostile world, there is a fine line between healthy caution and virtual psychosis. Yes, there are all kinds of threats out there that we need to be aware of. But some parents get so worried that they micro-manage their kids’ lives. This breeds children who are scared to take risks and incapable of standing on their own two feet. At the same time, the paranoia cripples the parent every time their kids are out of their sight.

You can’t take the risk out of life. Even if you could, would you really want to? The most important lessons are often learned through disappointments and hard experiences. If we raise our kids inside a plastic bubble of protection, we may keep them safe for a time, but we rob them of the opportunity to gain confidence and grow through trials.

What you can and should do is take reasonable precautions. For example, rather than saying, “No trampolines, no toboggans,” show your kids how to play with these things wisely and safely. Instead of scaring them into never talking to strangers, help them learn how to observe people and watch for warning signs. Instead of forbidding them from getting their driver’s license, teach them how to drive carefully. Talk, even caution them about threats, but don’t immobilize them.

2. Educate Yourself

Here’s a principle to keep in mind: the more educated you are about the issues facing your kids, the wiser your decisions, the less you’ll worry. Take the internet for instance. We all know that the online world can be a dangerous place for kids if they aren’t careful. The problem is, in many cases our kids know more about computers and the internet than we do. We can’t train them in internet safety if we don’t know how to use it ourselves. Plus, the problem is scarier to us if we don’t fully understand it.

The solution is to find a computer-savvy friend who can teach you how to use the technology and walk you through the pitfalls, so your computer will be safe at home. The wiser you can be about the technology at home, the fewer worries you’re going to have, and the more effectively you can safeguard your kids. This applies not just to the internet, but to every parenting fear you have. Knowledge puts your apprehensions into perspective and helps you to deal with any threat in a wise and productive way.

3. Talk Freely with Your Kids

Once you’ve educated yourself, the next step it to take time to teach your kids. An informed child is the best defence against the many things that could potentially happen to a kid. The more the child knows about the dangers that exist and how to protect themselves, the safer they are. So coach them. Talk with them about the things they see in their world and give them the freedom to share their fears with you.

Use the teachable moments that present themselves each day. I’m reminded of that great Hebrew parenting advice where it says, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). As you walk through life with your children, you will have countless opportunities to train them in how to survive in this world. Don’t let them get away.

Of course, you also need to give them appropriate boundaries. There are some things they are unable to protect themselves from, and in those cases we must do it for them. Even then, though, it should be done in a context that enables them to learn the reasons for the rules so they can begin to develop their own boundaries, and so they’ll understand how to deal with the situation if the boundaries ever slip. Help them develop a reasoned lifestyle, where they know why they do what they do.

4. Instil Confidence, Not Fear

What kind of adult do you want your child to become? One who thinks the world is out to get them and is afraid to face the difficult situations that come their way? Or one who is secure and strong enough to survive the inevitable challenges life will bring? To most, the answer is clear.

If you want your child to become strong, you need to develop their confidence. You must believe in them, affirm them and paint a strong future for them. Build in a tough attitude, one that says, “I’m going to be okay in this ‘big, bad world’. It’s going to be alright. I know what’s right, and I can say no.”

I’m not saying we want them to be arrogant, but we need to be empowering our kids. Instead of teaching them to be afraid of people, teach them how to look adults in the eye. Make sure they understand that it’s okay to say “no” to things that make them uncomfortable. Help them learn to build their own boundaries, because the time will come when they are outside of your ability to protect them. When that time comes, you want them to have a sense of confidence that they will make it on their own.

One thing that really helped us with our kids is to teach them to trust in a God who loves them. The Bible contains 366 verses that tell us to “Fear not!” Build into your child a conviction that God is walking through life with them, and that His plans for them are good. This can give them great courage as they face a world that is full of pitfalls.

5. Be a Safe Harbour

The last thing, and likely the greatest gift to our kids is this: we have to become a safe place for our children. We need to be approachable and real. We need to major on the major things and don’t make issues out of things that are no big deal. So at the time when they need someone to run to, it will be you. Your genuine love and unconditional acceptance will cause them to run home to Mom and Dad. They know they are welcome. Believe me, nothing is greater as a parent than when your teen or young adult comes to you for input and advice. What a privilege!

Mom and Dad, you’ve got to take time for your kids. Hug your kids often and tell them you love them. Give them the opportunity to tell you about your worries and fears. When they tell you they’re afraid of something, don’t downplay it. Don’t question their fears, because they’ll never come and talk to you about them again. Listen, understand, and then build their confidence.

I can’t stress it enough: when your kids come running home, they must be running to a safe place: a place where they feel they can come without fear of judgment; a place where Mom and Dad love them unconditionally. That’s the greatest gift you can give to a kid in a crazy, complicated world.

© Dr. Dave Currie, May 2005