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Raising Fear-less Children

“What can we do to help our children or grandchildren grow up with less fear and anxiety?”

That’s a question asked of me recently by a group of concerned Christian parents. One of my December blogs was about fear and faith in times of economic crisis. In it I shared how my childhood experiences shaped my “emotional truth” – which are the things I felt were true, based on my life experiences.

Ann Voskamp, the best-selling author of, One Thousand Gifts, an amazing Christian woman said this in her January 3, 2013 blog:

“My dad, he used to look at my straight A report card and then look me straight in the eye and say, “Well – maybe your little sisters will someday make me proud.” Then she goes on to say, “And when you can’t live up to expectations, you can feel like dying – or running away.” That’s her emotional truth which obviously still haunts her.

In my 30 years of mentoring, I’ve come to this conclusion about certain people: Most driven and successful people are still trying to win the admiration or approval of someone they couldn’t when they were young. Either that, or they have been inspired to excel by someone who believed in them deeply and loved them unconditionally.

Today, let’s talk about what we as parents and grandparents can do to raise fear-less children. Who was it in your life that either cheered you on, or you could never seem to please?

Driven by love

I was fortunate to have been in the first category. My parents were amazing! I can’t remember them pushing me to accomplish anything – sports, grades, nothing except to complete college and this; they expected me to be a “good Christian”, kind, hardworking, and respectful. Virtues were valued more highly than accomplishments in our home. As a result, I was driven by love to meet their expectations, and not out of fear. In fact, the only gripe I have with my parents is that I can’t blame my dysfunctions on them!

However, I picked up signals outside of my home that told me just the opposite – accomplishments were more important than virtues. Your children will hear those same messages and you can’t do much to control that. This blog narrows in on what you, as parents and grandparents can do to raise spiritually and emotionally healthy and fear-less adults.

Driven by fear

There’s a very successful businessman I know whose son is very athletic and attends a Christian school and goes to a good church regularly. One of his father’s favorite’s sayings to his son is, “If you’re not #1, you’re simply the first loser”. There’s a kid who will be on some shrink’s couch someday if he doesn’t crash first. Aside from the obvious fact that this advice is completely antithetical to what Jesus said were the first and second greatest commandments, his son has only two choices – win or lose the respect of his father. Enjoying himself, putting others first and true servant teamwork are off the table.

Most of us are shocked by that. But, in more subtle ways we unintentionally send similar messages out to our children or grandchildren with questions or comments like:

What was the score of your game?

Who got the lead in the school play?

How many friends do you have on Facebook?

I expect far more from you.

Why aren’t you more like…?

You’re not wearing that are you?

Who are the popular kids at school?

Are you starting in the game?

You’ll never get into a good college with these grades.

I can almost hear the questions you’re asking yourself right now. “But, Clare…

  1. It’s true; my child is under-performing! She’ll never get into college with her grades!

  2. You mean we should just let our kids wear or do what they want?

I’m not a child psychologist. At the end of this blog, I’ll suggest a few good books from Christians who are. I’m simply observing the long term effects of well-meaning Christian parents to “inspire their kids to live up to their potential”.

My personal observations

1. Scaring or shaming your children into performing better often works. It will generally result in better performance, but at a terrible price to them as adults. Also, they’ll end up doing the same thing to their children – your grandchildren.

I once had this conversation with a successful guy who was very worried that he wouldn’t be able to pay for his children to go to a top college. “So, what if you can’t?” I asked. “Then they won’t get a good job,” he replied. “Do you mean a job like yours working 60 hours a week, so you can pay for your kids to get a job where they can work 60 hours a week and worry about paying college tuition for their kids?”

It’s been my personal observation that lawyers and doctors are not any more happy, or emotionally healthy and spiritual than bricklayers or mechanics. My wife and I actually talked two of our children into dropping out of college until they discovered what they really wanted out of life. They were both good kids, we just couldn’t see the point in spending $25,000 a year for them to “find themselves”. We could afford it, so that wasn’t the point. One went back later and the other never did and they have thanked us since for the freedom to let them decide.

Parents need to ask themselves why they have the aspirations they do for their children. We ought to ask other questions like, “Is this really about me – about how I’ll look to my family or friends?” Where did I pick up the notion that my children have to excel in anything except godliness?

2. The most well-adjusted adults I’ve met – were not overly programed as children. Having your kids in two sports, the school play and spending afternoons and evenings in cars, eating fast food between activities, even if they like it, will probably help your child become an over-achiever, but not a happier, healthier adult. I believe in free-range children, minimal supervision, creative play and meals eaten together as families.

3. Almost no controlling and performance-oriented parents consider themselves to be controlling or unloving. In fact, they believe just the opposite. They actually believe they are doing their children (and perhaps even their spouse) a loving service by encouraging them to live up to their potential. If you’ve ever been called a controlling person by several people – you just may be. (I know I have been and I got help for it.)

4. Praise your children more for their virtues than for their performance. Tom Koster, a good friend, once gave me that great advice. So years ago, we tried to be far more diligent at saying things to our children like;

I really admired your attitude when your team lost.

It looks to me like you put everything you had into writing this paper.

I admire your truthfulness.

I also became better at asking our children what they really wanted out of life. We warned them about certain choices and encouraged them to make better choices, but at the end of the day we realized, we couldn’t push a string. (True confessions, I’m way better at this now as a grandfather in following my own advice, than I was as a parent.)

Some great reads:

The Five Love Languages of Children, Chapman and Campbell

Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tripp

Revolutionary Parenting, Barna

Finally, you may find this Time Magazine article interesting about the fact that Finland’s laid back approach toward education produces both superior students and healthier kids, Finland’s Educational Success? The Anti-Tiger Mother Approach http://mymeproject.wordpress.com/2011/04/03/time-magazine-finlands-educational-success-the-anti-tiger-mother-approach/

Question: So if you now have older children, please share with us what you did or wish you would have done differently as a parent. 

Following Jesus in Real Life

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