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Sunday, 16 May 2010

Teaching children to overcome fear

Like most kids, my four-year-old son loves to climb. Whether it's trees, a jungle gym, or me, he wants to scale it.

Of course I love this. Both I and his mother were rock climbers in our twenties and we're hoping (or at least I'm hoping) he'll get into that too. Playgrounds nowadays have little climbing walls on the sides of the jungle gyms so I've been teaching him some moves. I've also been teaching him the right attitude, like when he turns to me and says, "I'm scared."

I've heard this from other kids in the playground, and the usual response from the parent is, "There's nothing to be scared of," or "Don't be a baby."

I never say that, because you should be a little scared when climbing. What I tell him is, "It's OK to be scared, but go ahead and do it anyway."

This was the biggest lesson rock climbing taught me. I took up climbing in college to cure my fear of heights. It didn't work. I was terrified every time I got on the rocks. But I learned to control my fear. It stopped affecting my ability to climb and didn't stop me from going out every weekend I could. Nowadays I'm happy to go up heights if I feel it's worth it. I even braved the Angel's Landing hike at Zion National Park and climbed up a dodgy leather rope to get to the clifftop monastery of Debre Damo, Ethiopia. I wouldn't want my son to miss out on experiences like that just because he's scared.

Yesterday we went to the "big boys park" and he said, "spot me." He proceeded to climb up a ladder that had rungs a bit too far apart for him, and then traversed some monkey bars that were twice as high off the ground as he is tall. I coached him through it and he looked pretty proud when he finished.

A few minutes later I was sitting on a park bench about ten meters away when I saw him do it himself. He flashed right up the ladder and had no trouble on the monkey bars either. I just sat there, too far away to help him if he fell, grinding my teeth with worry and giving him a thumbs-up sign.

Parents have to learn to overcome fear too.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

1 comment:

Su Halfwerk said...

Great post, Sean!
This is the best way to teach a kid how to be confident and open to possibilities.
My son is proud of the fact that I always tell him that I understand his fear. What scares him is different from what scares others, and no one appreciates others belittling his/her fear.

Su Halfwerk