These are two of the most important words I say to my kids, and I say them a lot.
When they’re hesitant about a new situation, nervous about an event or competition, when their feelings are hurt, when they’re scraped up from a fall or convinced there’s something scary in their closet, those two little words always turn up and offer an immense amount of comfort to all of us.
I don’t want their lives overly dominated by the rush of nerves and anxiety that accompanies the start of so many things. I don’t want them to stop short of whatever it is they’ve set out to do and miss out on something great/new/worthwhile because they were scared.
I don’t want to feed into irrational fears because there are things in life to be scared of, but, if they can at all help it, rain storms, the dark, and jumping into a swimming pool shouldn’t be among them. At least not for very long in their lives.
Starting new things can be overwhelming. Joining in is usually intimidating. With very little encouragement, a worrisome thought can take root and grow to unreasonable proportions. Then the whole activity/idea/plan seems like it’s going to be just a little too much, and it passes by, lost.
I want my kids to learn to trust their instincts, but an important part of this is helping them sort through what’s a real concern and what’s really not a big deal.
My son was particularly hesitant about new things as a toddler and preschooler, especially if it was a chaotic or loud scene with a lot of other kids and noise. Think of a bounce house, play ground, gymnastics open gym, etc. His near-panic was obvious. Sometimes he’d cry, he always covered his ears, and occasionally he even tried to run.
A couple times we let him sit out, but we noticed he’d be more upset after we left. He regretted not joining in, so we started pushing him to stay and engage instead of letting him retreat.
There were tough moments, like parents eyeballing me while I firmly re-directed him back into the action, usually while he worked himself into a fear-fueled frenzy. And it was awful to see him upset, knowing he was scared and that I could fix it so easily. I had to fight the urge to hold him, take him out and make it all better. I could have, but that would have been in service to me, not him. I had to parent this issue with my head, not my heart.
There was nothing (in those instances) worth being scared of so we tried to talk him through it. We’d cover how he felt, how it was normal, how it’s always a little hard to work through change or try something new or when we’re scared or when something hurts. We talked about what could go wrong, what could go right, what was probably going to happen, and we always talked about, how almost always, no matter, he was going to be okay.
Now, when he’s staring at me, frozen and wide-eyed before a big crowd at a martial arts tournament, I put my cheek against his and say, “You know this stuff and you’re going to be okay.”
When he’s rambling on, nervously, about starting back to school, I listen, smile, keep it light, and tell him, “You’re going to be okay.”
When he crashes his bike, busts his lip and mouth and face and he’s in pain and scared (and I’m scared, too), I wipe away the blood and try to find his teeth and tell him, “I know it hurts, but you’re going to be okay… (then I study the injuries a little closer and clarify)… after some stitches and medical attention, you’ll be okay.”
I never tell him everything is going to work out perfectly. I never promise him it’s going to be easy or pain-free or fun. I never tell him he shouldn’t feel the way he does. I just try to focus him on what he knows, his strengths, and what he can control.
So far, lucky for me, the calculated risk of my guarantee has worked out and over the years, its started to sink in. Now that he’s a little older, it is rare to see any of those old nerves, worries or anxieties in him. He jumps into new things and groups easily and he talks openly about things he ‘needs to try’.
Our little mantra doesn’t banish all fears of course, it’s just part of our process of working through them. It helps him settle, and now he’s seen enough to believe it’s true. And he should believe it, because really, with just a handful of tragic exceptions, it is. No matter what happens in his life, after enough time has passed, he’ll almost always be okay.
Several years ago a young wife and mother who was a mentor and teammate to me in high school, died rather suddenly. We hadn’t been in touch for years and even in school I was younger and she probably considered me more a teammate than a friend, but in my mind she was (and will always be) a truly exceptional human being I was blessed to know.
Her death made no sense, still makes no sense. She was just a couple years older than me, still in her twenties when this happened. Her children were about the same age as mine. The photos of her at the memorial service showed even when fighting her illness, she was all kindness and beauty, an intelligent, dare-you sort of glint in her eye. A smile that comes from the soul. The very same girl I remembered from not-so-many years earlier.
I had a lot of angry questions for God at that time. Things like, How will her kids ever know how amazing she was? How does it make any sense she dies and some woman somewhere in the world who abuses and neglects her kids will live on and on to damage them for years to come? (I know this is neither kind nor rational, but it’s how I felt). How do her parents bury their baby girl? How does her husband sleep in that half empty bed from now on?
No matter how I turned it, I just couldn’t understand. I still don’t, really, but eventually, the answer that offered the first ounce of comfort on the matter was they are all going to be okay.
For those of you who pray, you’ll know what that answer felt like. A heavy sort of certainty that fills your heart and calms your mind. It made sense. Her death wasn’t fair, and it’s no less tragic or infuriating, but the prayer-answer calmed me and helped me move past the parts I couldn’t change or understand.
Her kids are going to be okay. They have their dad and wonderful grandparents and a host of other friends and family who love her and love them and will help them know how amazing their mom was. No one can ever quite fill in the loss of her in their lives. They will hurt and miss her all their days, but they’ll still be okay.
The ‘they’ll be okay’ answer stuck with me I guess so now whenever my kids need comfort or encouragement, those are the words that come to me first and on the day they asked what would happen to them if I died, it was all I could think to say.
If I died, they’d feel sad and mad and scared sometimes, but, they have so many people who love them and so much in this life to look forward to, they’d be okay. Just like they’re okay in the dark in their rooms and they’re okay when they stand in front of all those people at a martial arts tournament and they’re okay when it thunders so loud it shakes the house.
Maybe this is all really for me, probably (like all things) rooted deep in my personality flaws and emotional damage. Maybe I have to believe they’ll always be okay because I can’t psychologically deal with the fact they might not be. Maybe it’s my Christian roots shining though and the promise that Jesus saves us from all things, that His sacrifice for our salvation will eventually set us things right.
I don’t know, but someday I won’t be here, and if my kids are 6 or 60, I still want them to know they’re going to be okay. Life is big and there are a lot of hard and scary things they’re going to have to face. Showing them they can, starting with little things like playground knee scrapes, under the bed monsters, and first day jitters seems like a good place to start.
Any thoughts on this or other approaches to help our kids past their early irrational fears? Am I just way off on my own with this tougher love approach… like Mommy Dearest?
Image Credit: Words of reassurance from the streets of Portland by (OvO) license link https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/