What does a huge water slide have to do with raising a healthy, strong, self-confident girl?
Well, recently, I had the chance to share the joy, thrill, and FEAR of watching my 6-year-old daughter, who just by a lick reached the height limit, go down her first ENORMOUS water slide. And as with many aspects of parenting, I felt both excitement and pride in her desire to stretch her courage muscle, as well as fear and worry about how she’d experience it. (And frankly my thoughts about whether she’d go flying off the side didn’t help).
The truth is, I knew she’d be safe. I knew my fear involved something else entirely: What if she hated it? What if she got to the top and cried because she’s so scared? What if …? And I also feared for myself: What if something — anything — happened to her?
And these fears aren’t different from the many other fears I’ve had as a parent each time one of my children takes a step toward a risk. A risk that’s both exciting and a little scary.
Every time, I try to bite my tongue, smile, and let them know I believe in them (even when I’m not fully feeling it!). As parents, we’re always trying to protect our children from danger, discomfort, and struggle. We FEEL their potential pain or disappointment, and we want to do everything we can to help them avoid it.
Although it’s our job to keep them safe, if we take our protection too far (which I see parents — including myself — unwittingly do all the time), we may weaken their courage muscle and, as a result, their self-esteem.
And self-esteem, confidence in one’s abilities, and belief in one’s inner strength can be a powerful antidote to struggles with food, eating and body image.
I see it all the time: As my clients begin to strengthen their courage muscle and ACT on (rather than procrastinate or avoid) the things that excite them and turn them on (despite fear, which is always there when you stretch in this way), food and eating stresses become less intense. Not only are they more “filled up” in their lives, but they feel stronger and more confident in their capabilities.
(Believe me, my daughter was not thinking about an ice cream cone before, during or after that ride; yet had she WANTED to do it and not allowed herself, I am guessing ice cream might have been the first thing on her mind). Food often becomes a necessary replacement when we aren’t filled up with enough yummy and meaningful experiences, when we’re disappointed in ourselves for not taking a “big bite” out of our life, or when we are feeling incapable or insecure.
So how can you help your daughter strengthen her “courage muscle”?
* Examine your own courage muscle, and try to model feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
* Notice when your own anxiety gets stirred up because of something your daughter wants to do, and ask yourself whether that anxiety is real fear (i.e. your intuition is picking up that she’s really in danger somehow) or if it’s triggering your own wish to protect her from experiencing some healthy “growing pains.” If it’s the latter, try not to show her your own fear (which she may interpret as the belief you don’t think she’s capable).
* Expose your daughter to courageous role models — women who are doing admirable things, despite their fear.
* Notice when your daughter WANTS to stretch but may be afraid to step into it, and gently but powerfully help her take action. Empathize with her fear, but help her focus on her desire. Help her realize what the cost is of not doing what she really wants, and brainstorm how she can survive worst-case scenerios.
* Identify with your daughter all the things she’s done that were initially scary, but which she then conquered, reminding her that she can survive (and thrive) from taking on new challenges as she is ready.
As always, thank you for reading and I would LOVE to hear your comments!