Thoughts on fostering growth through empathy
- a blog for parents -
Remember the distinction between fear and anxiety? Anxiety is a feeling of dread about bad or difficult things that "could happen". Fear, on the other hand, is a feeling of dread you get about a "REAL & PRESENT DANGER" (just like the movie!)
So, whereas with anxiety you help them walk through the feeling and the situation to learn that there is nothing to worry about because "they've got this!"; with "FEAR", you need to take charge and protect them.
They're afraid of the bully at school who has belittled or threatened them? Talk to the teacher, the principal, the bus driver - talk to whomever needs to know and can help - and ask for appropriate action to take place to make sure that they're safe - both emotionally and physically.
They're afraid of that large spider in their room? Trap the spider and let it go outdoors where it belongs! (I know, the spider probably couldn't hurt them, but, some do bite and there are a couple of a species of poisonous spiders in Alberta, so I err on the side of "better safe than sorry" on this one!)
They're afraid of being told to do something that they feel unsafe doing? Like what? It depends. If your child is being asked to do something that challenges their abilities beyond their capacities and it is a known area of weakness, they're going to be afraid. A child with poor motor control being told he must complete the rock climbing activity to pass gym is going to be legitimately afraid of being hurt and needs to be protected. A child with a history of choking and gagging on unfamiliar food is going to be afraid when they are forced to eat something they have not been offered before and will need to be protected.
The gap between anxiety and fear comes down to knowing what is "real and present danger" for your child - in part, from knowing their strengths and weaknesses and leaning into THEIR perspective - and what is a worry (anxiety) about things that could go wrong, but are highly unlikely. Essentially, it's a matter of probability.
How do you know the difference?
You talk to them and make sure you know what's happening in their lives - and protect them when they need you to.
As a side bar: My father did this so well when I was growing up - he read the cues, engaged with me, heard me out, and stopped bullying in its tracks. This allowed me to feel (and actually BE) safe at school and so I could be ready to learn. I hope I did the same for my daughter!