Our oldest son is a precious child. He’s loving, compassionate, funny, attentive, generous, and kind. He’s aware of those around him. And he makes the best facial expressions on the planet.
These are just a few of the things that make him a special addition to our family. But he’s excessively cautious and fearful in many ways. It’s an aspect of his raw temperament that we know we’ve got to mold and shape along the way.
He’s incredibly gifted, but he’s afraid to put his abilities to the test.
He loves to have fun, but he’s afraid to take risks during play.
He’s extremely smart, but he’s afraid of making mistakes at school.
Loud noises (or bugs) can give him a run for his money depending on the day of the week.
And he’s afraid of the dark.
When we take him to the doctor? He’ll ask us twenty times if he’s getting a shot. And if he is? Well it could be said that in the past, it’s taken the two of us to get him through the ordeal and out on the other side.
These are just some of the ways in which our son’s fearful temperament can plague him. And Kory and I will be the first to tell you that this aspect of his temperament has been a real struggle for us.
Not because we’ve been ashamed of it or embarrassed by it. He’s a great kid, only six, with wonderful qualities all about him. And he’s human after all. Just like the rest of us.
But we’ve struggled because we’ve been perplexed about how to handle situations when his fear begins to overtake him. We don’t like it when we can’t help any of our children work through something that’s trying to take them down. And when we can’t help him manage his fearful feelings, that makes us feel pretty helpless as his parents.
We’ve tried a thousand different tactics over the years, but none of them have seemed to be all that effective. At least not in the long run. And many of them have actually resulted in a downward spiral. This has been frustrating for us because we don’t want to play into his (or any of our kids’) irrational fears. And even those fears that are rational, we want him to learn to manage. After all, God does not give us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). We believe that with all our hearts. And we don’t want our son spending his life enslaved by that emotion.
But this summer, we received a gift.
When we arrived at Family Camp on July 13, it took all of 15 minutes for our three kids to shed their shoes. They’re not much for footwear and would go bare-feet to church on Sunday if we’d let them. In fact, I’m fairly certain Little Bit has lost several pairs of shoes at church.
How does that happen you might ask?
I have no idea.
In any event, I warned them about the risk of splinters given the wooden deck that adorns the covered porch of each of the buildings at Sky Ranch Ute Trail (porches where Kory and I had the privilege of enjoying coffee every morning while our kids slept in), but they didn’t heed my advice to put their shoes back on. So in the spirit of “picking my battles,” I decided to let the scene play out. And within two hours? Our oldest son had a ginormous (yes, that’s a word) splinter in the pad of his foot.
And it was embedded deeply in his skin between his first two toes.
It happened while we were in parent orientation so the counselors tried to get it out. God bless them.
But he wouldn’t cooperate.
So when we returned to the kids after the meeting, Kory and I took him back to our cabin to work on it in private. We didn’t have any better luck than the counselors and, before we knew it, things had spiraled downward for our son.
In the moment when we realized we might have to hold him down to get the splinter out, Kory decided we needed to take a time out.
For all of us.
So he went up to the lodge to grab a splinter tool and some peroxide from the First Aid Kit because the tweezers we had weren’t going to do the job.
Five minutes came and went. And Kory didn’t return.
But fifteen minutes later, he walked into the cabin. Armed with all the needed tools. Including a new disposition on his face.
Because mine was still wanting.
Apparently, while he was up at the lodge digging through the First Aid Kit, he struck up a conversation with one of the counselors. As he talked with her about the struggle we were having with our son, she shared that she suffered from a similar struggle when she was a child.
She said that she was extremely fearful.
That her fears spanned the spectrum from irrational to rational and that she often lost her self-control when fear overcame her.
She shared with Kory that, during these episodes, her mom would say to her:
“It’s OK to be afraid. It’s OK to not want to do this. But it’s not OK to lose your self-control.”
And that was the expectation her parents placed on her. To find (and keep) her self-control.
So when Kory entered the cabin, he took a deep breath and gave that speech to our son. Our son nodded his head to indicate he understood. And I immediately felt my spirits lighten.
We got the splinter out.
Really with very little drama.
He was so proud of himself. And we were so proud of him.
It was a pivotal moment. We knew it then, but we didn’t realize the magnitude of it until we used the same speech to encourage him (not force him) to do this:
And he had an amazing week of self-discovery and courageous growth as a result. Thank goodness we learned this new tactic on Day 1!
The irony is that we’ve been working with our oldest son on a memory verse all summer. Kory and I chose it for him after a lot of prayer and conversation:
“God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7
But in our application, we had been focused on the “not being afraid” part rather than the “being self-controlled” part. And it occurred to us at Family Camp that telling a child not to be afraid is like telling someone not to be happy or not to be sad or not to be angry or not to be frustrated.
That’s completely unreasonable.
Rational or not, our feelings are our feelings, and we have to deal with them. And that doesn’t mean erasing them with a magic wand or stuffing them under the bed. (Don’t we wish that were the case?) It means processing them through real work. But all the while, using the tool of self-control to do it.
Since we’ve been back from Family Camp, we’ve used this new speech countless times. And we’re working really hard with our son to impress the memory verse from 2 Timothy 1 on his heart, this time with our focus on the issue of self-control.
And it’s working.
No doubt we have a long way to go. But at least we’re finally on the right track!
Do you place unreasonable expectations on your kids? If so, how might you tweak your expectations to be something they can actually achieve?