The prob­lem with fear

The Record (Troy, NY) - - FRONT PAGE -

I was just re­view­ing some saved emails, and ran across the fol­low­ing email:

Hello Dr. Cale. I read your news­let­ter on grate­ful­ness, and it was good to hear it again. I was r e mi nde d again of what seems to be the big­gest ob­sta­cle to me in fo­cus­ing on the pos­i­tive things about my kids: I worry! With this comes nag­ging, re­mind­ing, prod­ding and push­ing… con­stantly. It’s what I do. And I see where it stops me from be­ing grate­ful and ap­pre­cia­tive.

I do NOT trust that any­thing will hap­pen without me push­ing things along. And it leaves no room, or at least lit­tle room, for me to be feed­ing the pos­i­tive in my chil­dren. I see them re­sent­ing my ‘ he­li­copter­ing’ over them. And, I rec­og­nize that my fears are lim­it­ing how much we en­joy life at home. Thoughts?

Perry, Fa­ther of two boys (ages 14 & 18)

This fa­ther is ex­press­ing a strug­gle I of­ten see. We have a strong sense of what we want to be as a mom or dad, but fear and worry hi­jack our good in­ten­tions. This then leads us down a path that un­der­mines both the qual­ity of our par­ent­ing, and the qual­ity of our re­la­tion­ships.

Why Fear Based Par­ent­ing Fails

Let’s first un­der­stand this: Worry is just fear. It is of­ten dis­guised in our mind, and we can find­ways to jus­tify it. But it’s still fear. That’s why this ar­ti­cle is about fear, and howit cor­rupts our good-par­ent­ing in­ten­tions.

We Keep Re­peat­ing Our­selves… Think­ing This Will Help. It Doesn’t.

When fears of mis­takes, miss­ing out, kids not get­ting it or even drugs tak­ing over their lives… we in­evitably start talk­ing and ques­tion­ing. Our minds have us pro­ject­ing our wor­ries of the fu­ture into the present, whether that’s worry about to­mor­row or some dis­tant mo­ment.

In these mo­ments, we for­get to trust ev­ery­thing else we have done as a par­ent. In­stead, there we are re­mind­ing them again. There we are ques­tion­ing them again. And of course, the re­peated words of wis­dom, sto­ries from the past or threats about what bad out­comes flow ef­fort­lessly from our lips. For­get that we have said this 78 times this year al­ready. It just keeps hap­pen­ing.

If this worked to pre­vent mis­takes or poor choices, great. It would be worth it. But it doesn’t work. If it did, par­ent­ing would be a lot eas­ier, and I would be out of busi­ness!

And Who Is This About?

Let’s be hon­est: It’s about you. It makes you feel bet­ter BE­CAUSE it’s as if you did some­thing to pre­vent the feared event or out­come from hap­pen­ing. Yet this rep­e­ti­tion didn’t do what you wanted. It just re­lieves your stress.

We want to think it’s about them, and pro­tect­ing them. But none of the re­search and com­mon-sense ob­ser­va­tions sup­port this. It doesn’t pro­tect them. It doesn’t help them learn. It doesn’t stop stupid choices.

What Are We Pass­ing On?

And there’s more to this toxic role of fear: You pass it on. Yes, un­know­ingly, you are pass­ing on your fears and wor­ries. The rep­e­ti­tion of re­dun­dant ques­tions, com­ments, nag­ging, and reminders are all teach­ing some­thing your chil­dren to think about what you DON’T want in life… rather than what you do want.

And here’s the real rub with this ap­proach. The more we fo­cus on what we don’t want in life (al­ways stem­ming from some fear), the more that fear grows in­side our mind. The more it grows in our mind, the more we ex­press it and the more it con­sumes us.

Like Perry who wrote me in the email above, there is lit­tle room left for the pos­i­tive, af­ter life is con­sumed with all that worry re­lated chat­ter. This is what we pass on with this prac­tice.

Fear Dis­tracts Us from Hav­ing a Great Par­ent­ing Plan

Dur­ing all this, we miss out on a crit­i­cal piece; hav­ing a great par­ent­ing plan. When we in­vest heav­ily in worry and fear, this is what con­sumes our minds. And too of­ten, this sub­sti­tutes for a clear game plan for par­ent­ing.

We talk with our hus­bands, wives, part­ners, friends, and par­ents about the kids and re­view our wor­ries over and over. We of­ten leave these dis­cus­sions with more wor­ries and fears, and more to talk about with our kids. Lit­tle of that will have any­thing to do good par­ent­ing prac­tices.

Keep in mind that noth­ing about this ar­ti­cle is ar­gu­ing against good dis­cus­sions with your chil­dren. It’s about the rep­e­ti­tion of the same stuff, over and over, and the delu­sions that this is help­ful. It is not.

Next week, I will fol­low up with an ar­ti­cle on trust­ing your par­ent­ing and find­ing a game plan that gives you a rea­son to trust what you do and say. Un­til then, do your best to re­lax more and re­peat your­self less. Dr. Randy Cale, a Clifton Park-based par­ent­ing ex­pert, au­thor, speaker and li­censed psy­chol­o­gist, of­fers prac­ti­cal guid­ance for a host of par­ent­ing con­cerns. His web­site, www.Ter­ri­ficPar­ent­, of­fers free par­ent­ing guid­ance and an email news­let­ter. Read­ers can learn more by re­view­ing past ar­ti­cles found on the web­sites of The Sarato­gian, The Record and The Com­mu­nity News. Sub­mit ques­tions to

Dr. Randy Cale

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