This week as I was searching for a topic to write about, I was reminded of a painful childhood experience. Keep reading; this story will help your parenting, I promise.
There are times when an adult experiences a situation that triggers a feeling buried so deep, it actually feels like a ghost from their past.
That feeling, the ghost from the past, makes the adult doubt herself and feel as if she’s just not good enough.
Circle of Moms member Natalee N. experiences it as being judged: “…I find that parenting is almost like a competitive sport in which you’re constantly being judged on your appearance, your child’s appearance, what you eat, where you go, etc.”
The triggers are different for everyone. For some the trigger could be going out for dinner with a business associate, meeting new moms, or being in the presence of a particular person.
The trigger ignites a feeling that’s linked to a wound that was created in childhood. That wound causes the adult to doubt her capability. She actually feels more like the child who was wounded than the adult that she is; it’s that powerful.
When Kids Are Afraid of Failing
As a young adult I was never comfortable doing math in front of others, never! Each time I was asked to add up the bill or multiply something in front others, I was overtaken by strong feelings of inadequacy. A wave of insecurity washed over me and I froze. Here’s why.
When I was in third grade, math was my big struggle. My father was a math whiz and would often announce that he didn’t understand my problems with math, since it was so easy for him.
Each night after dinner Dad would insist on helping me with my homework. Rather quickly he would get frustrated and yell. I’d become fearful and panic. His tone of voice and choice of words told me a great deal about myself—I was stupid, lazy and incapable.
Each day at school, my third grade teacher, a woman who believed it was perfectly okay to smack a student on the knuckles with a ruler if he or she didn’t get the answer right, would make me fearful and panicky when she called on me. My math answers always seemed to be wrong, so I’d get smacked a lot.
Each time I became fearful and panicky my fight or flight response would be triggered, and my body would release adrenaline.
Consistently releasing that much adrenaline can do many things to a child. It can make her fight with you or want to run away from the situation. Since running away isn’t usually possible for a child, she shuts down, withdraws, or doesn’t listen, all in the name of protecting herself from the feelings of inadequacy.
The best description of fear I’ve ever heard is: F-E-A-R = False-Evidence-Appearing-Real. When someone is filled with F-E-A-R they can’t see what’s really going on in a situation. The F-EA-R takes center stage and causes the person to make inaccurate assumptions about herself, others and the situation.
In my case, my childhood fear of doing math in front of others caused me to fight with my father, and shut down in front of my teacher and classmates. I did that to try and protect myself from feeling my feelings of inadequacy.
Stop, Look, and Ask
How does this help you?
If you experience your child resisting, fighting, shutting down, or not listening repeatedly as they attempt a task, try to look beyond their immediate behavior and STOP, LOOK, and ASK, not necessarily in that order.
STOP insisting they behave right now. Take a moment.
LOOK at the situation from the child’s point of view.
ASK the child some questions to help him or her see the situation in a clearer light.
Here’s a sample conversation.
Stop: “Sweetie, you seem to get upset each time you have to do this. Let’s take a minute and talk before we go back to doing this.”
Ask: “How often do you feel uneasy about doing this?” and “Do feel capable of doing this at all?”
Look: At the ways you’re motivating your child to accomplish the task.
Look: At the ways other adults are motivating your child. Observe interactions between your child and teachers, sports coaches, piano teachers, etc.
Ask: “When you do this, math, baseball, piano or whatever, how do you feel about yourself?
It’s hard to get a child to acknowledge that they don’t feel capable. All kids need to know that everyone has trouble learning something from time to time before they can release their fears. Once the fear is released, their ears magically open, the fight goes away, and they’re able to absorb new information.
Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be, and the founder of Proactive Parenting. Her book and site help parents gain more patience by responding instead of reacting as they deal with the whirlwind of emotions created by raising kids ages 1-10. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.