A week or so ago we went to a holiday resort with our kids. The resort has a big water-slide – about three storeys high. Two of our kids were instantly excited about this cool ride! But the other two… not so much.
Facing your fears and overcoming them is something often talked about, but the programming begins at a very early age. Very early in our lives, the connections are formed. We start telling ourselves that we are able to do scary or difficult things. Or we tell ourselves that it’s just too difficult. That we won’t be able to pull it off and therefore shouldn’t even try, as the risk of failure and humiliation is too high.
My eldest wouldn’t go on a water-slide since he was old enough to understand his own fearfulness. For years we would try and convince him to at least try. We would beg, offer to accompany him and try to explain what he was missing out on, but to no avail. He just wasn’t ready. And to force him was no option. It would break the trust between us.
But this time was different. He watched his sisters come down the slide a couple of times and then went up with them to investigate. It took him years, but he was ready to look his fear in the eye. When he came to the top, he hesitated: this was tougher than he expected. But he decided to do it anyway! And when he came to the bottom of the slide – he’s laughter said it all! He probably went down the slide another thirty times after that first “breaking the ice” experience that day.
Then it was our youngest boy’s turn. He’s two years his brother’s junior and had absolutely no interest in trying. It seemed way too scary and he was happy watching from down below. But I knew he would love it if only he tried! So I tried a little psychology: No. More psychology: No. A portion psychology with a hint of positive guilt: Nope. Okay, so I needed another approach: Psychology (to face the fear) plus reward (to make it worth facing the fear) and… voilà! He conjured enough courage to try the slide once, and then spent the rest of the day enjoying the thrill of the adrenaline rush, as prophesied. By the time the reward became due, it was already irrelevant. The real reward was the gift of leading him through his fear, enabling him to “show his fear who’s the boss”. We discussed this concept with our kids when debriefing on the day’s events (as we usually do).
It is so important to instil a mindset of “I have what it takes” in the early development stage of a child. It is commonly known that the first seven years is a crucial time from a “programming” perspective. This is the time when the most important connections are made in the brain. It is therefore a decisive phase to start showing Fear who’s the boss. If this life skill is mastered at an early age, the benefits will manifest exponentially throughout the life of the child.