Gary contemplates the value of forcing his daughter to face her fears versus the prospect of creating worse problems.

My daughter desperately wanted to go down the big waterslide at the fun park. She made it to the top twice, and both times she ended up descending down the stairs instead of on her bottom. The second time, I was up there with her as she sat at the top of the slide in tears, wrestling with the decision of whether to go or not. The people in the queue below craned their necks to see what the hold-up was, and the slide attendant started to get impatient. I was trying to talk Ella into doing it, pleading with her to go, that she could do it and she’d be okay.

I thought of last year’s series of The Bachelorette, where Sam made all the contestants jump off a cliff as a test of their devotion to her, and there was one guy who was petrified of heights who just couldn’t jump. She booted him off the show shortly after. Cruel to be kind, I guess. For the briefest of instants I contemplated giving Ella a gentle nudge to the back with my foot, just enough to get her on her way, and soon she’d realise that there was nothing to worry about.

But I didn’t. To use The Bachelorette as a tool to make a parenting decision was a bridge too far, even though I really like it. Or if I was to be one hundred percent truthful, what actually stopped me was the cost of years of counselling for Ella’s paternal abandonment issues that flashed through my head.

 

Even though I was able to go down the water slide (just wanted to make that clear), I told her that I was afraid of things too.

Afterwards, Ella was pretty down on herself for not being brave enough and couldn’t understand why her mind wanted her to go down the slide but her body just wouldn’t let her. I told her that fears can be irrational and everyone has them. Even though I was able to go down the water slide (just wanted to make that clear), I told her that I was afraid of things too.

The bird fear, I’m convinced – even though my parents insist this wasn’t the case – was from being attacked as a child by a blackbird who, due to our similar features, mistook me for one of his own and considered me a threat.

I mentioned the things I’m most afraid of: birds (ornithophobia), clutter (knickknackphobia) and tools (bunningsphobia). Some pretty heavy things in that list, I know. And things – with the exception of clutter, surely – other people might actually find fun. But where do these fears come from?

The bird fear, I’m convinced – even though my parents insist this wasn’t the case – was from being attacked as a child by a blackbird who, due to our similar features, mistook me for one of his own and considered me a threat.

I’m far from a psychologist, but I would imagine the genesis of most of our fears is from childhood, and particularly where we were made to do something against our will, like being dragged along to a hardware store. Or pushed down a waterslide you really don’t want to go down.

Thinking about it, this scenario had happened before; when I’d gone to the effort of doing something with or for my kids that I thought was supposed to be fantastic fun, but they actually considered pretty terrifying.

A couple of instances stick in my head which I hadn’t handled well where I got upset with my kids’ inability to enjoy something supposedly enjoyable. The first one was at the beach when I repeatedly tried to take a freaking-out child into the ocean, and the second at a playground where I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t cross one of those wobbly bridges. Come to think of it, both of these incidents were with Ella, so perhaps it’s already too late to avoid the counselling for at least one of my kids. My poor first born!

But even though these types of incidents are tricky, I’m encouraged by the fact that I seem to have learned something by my past mistakes. I think I’ve learned to lose the expectations when it comes to what should be fun for the kids, and more importantly, when it should be fun.

Experiencing anything for the first time can be daunting, and it takes time to figure out what is really worth being fearful of and what can be accepted. Plus, kids seem to have their own in-built mechanism to protect themselves from harm that works pretty well. It actually overrides any desire or bias a parent has for them to be at the “right” developmental age and stage compared to other kids, or to do what the parent thinks they themselves were capable of at an equivalent age.

Basically, although it takes a bit longer for some, eventually most kids get over things in their own time. Except birds, who I swear know me and are after me. I will never get over them.

Author

Gary is a financial controller for a Perth-based mining company. He has had columns published on the challenging subject of the lighter side of accountancy, and has written for SBS TV. He is married to Sue and has two young children, Ella and Sebastian.

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