Fear is our emotional reaction to something we perceive as danger. Fear is the most painful stick in the motivation toolkit and unfortunately, it is the most common tool parents use to motivate their kids, mainly because their parents used it and their parents used it…
I believe that using fear is painful and very unhealthy for kids, because it the more they fear something, the more important and powerful it becomes. Also, the more afraid they are, the less confident they are and the less internally motivated, which means more fear is needed to get them going. Bad cycle.
Fear is at the heart of every difficulty in life. There is a theory that says there are fundamentally only two feelings: love and fear. Love is all that is considered good and fear is all that considered bad. If you think about it, frustration, anger, shame, failure and sadness are all forms of fears.
Unfortunately, using fear as a stick breeds many guilt feelings and instead of motivating, it is limiting.
In fact, many times, the reason kids seem to be unmotivated to do something is because they associate this action with something scary. For example, you ask your son to run over to the neighbor and give him some fresh cookies. Although he typically loves to meet people and to be helpful, your son may not be able to communicate that the man next door scares him with his big moustache and rumbling voice. Instead, he may delay, pretend not to hear you or even hide.
Very often, your kids will be afraid of imaginary things, but these will be real enough for them to appear unmotivated. A famous example is children’s refusal to go to bed, which leads them to be tired the following day and perform poorly in class, all because of the shadows in the night…
As parents, it is important for us to find out what our kids are afraid of. Their fears are their Achilles heel and our task as parents is to help them become immune to arrows (including our arrows).
- Never, never, never use your kids’ fears to make them do something.
- Never, never, never threat to use them to make them do something.
- If you abuse your knowledge of your kids’ fears, you will be perceived as the worst bully ever as soon as your kids grow up a bit.
Below is a list of fears kids have. See if you can recognize your kids’ fears.
Print out the list and go over it together as a family. Each person should highlight or mark the items on the list they fear the most.
Go over each person’s top sources of fear and work out the answers to these questions:
- What can we do to make sure this won’t happen?
- What can we do to make you feel better about it?
If your kids are not happy to share their list, let them know they can keep it private and not share or perhaps share only 1-2 items they wish to get your help with.
Reassure them that even grownups have fears by doing the activity with them and sharing some of your fears too. It is important for kids to know mom and dad are human and they also have fears. Also, ask your kids for help with your fears, as this will encourage them to ask for yours.
If your kids do not want to discuss their fears with you, give them the list and say “Whenever you are ready and want my help, I will be here to help you”.
Fears kids have (not in order of prevalence)
- Fear of shame – an inferior feeling of not fitting to other’s standards. This fear is associated with fear of being ridiculed by others.
- Fear of getting physically hurt – abuse, accident, sharp objects (knife), falling (elevators, bridges), sickness, death, disasters (earthquake, flood, hurricane).
- Fear of public speaking – reading homework at school, speaking at assembly, performing. The fear is associated with fear of imperfection, fear of shame and fear of being ridiculed by others.
- Fear of the dark – also fear of the unknown and exposure to movies and books portraying darkness as scary.
- Fear of being alone – left out, forgotten, getting lost also connected to fear of being ignored
- Fear of supernatural – monsters, bats, demons, ghosts, the number 13, the moon, witches,
- Fear of strangers – people they do not know, people looking different like clowns, people behaving different or speaking different.
- Fear of loud voices – storms, screaming, shouting.
- Fear of first things (fear of the unknown) – first day in school, first sleepover, first camp, first test, first time away from home, first trip to dentist.
- Fear of animals – when the fear is non-realistic like fear of spiders, ants or very small insects that cannot really hurt and kids run their life according to it, the fear becomes a phobia.
- Fear of scary sights – makes kids remember unpleasant things – blood, horror movies, graveyards, deformed people.
- Fear of criticism or disapproval – leads to fear of making decisions and has some fear of failure attached. Typical for kids who are criticized a lot. Usually, kids who fear criticism develop the “disease to please”.
- Fear or being ignored – challenges in self expression and low self esteem in fear from not being acknowledged.
- Fear of guilt feeling – belief in superstitions “just in case”, perceiving “small risks” as dangerous, challenges in conflicts and having the “disease to please”.
- Fear of imperfection – perfectionism towards self and others, devastation when not being the “Best”, competitive mindset.
- Fear of big things – sea or ocean, airplane, high-rise building, open space, the sky.
- Fear of punishment – high focus on avoidance, on not being caught, on hiding, lying.
- Fear of the unknown – forms of anxiety not knowing what the future holds. Those kids will seem procrastinators and paralyzed when trying to make decisions and move forward.
- Fear is a natural feeling of perceived danger
- Fear is not a healthy method to use for motivation
- Fear is a strong action inhibitor and often causes kids to appear unmotivated
- You need to discover your kids’ fears and make sure to never use them if you do not want them to perceive you as a bully and raise little victims
- Talk about your fears to legitimize your kids’ fears
- Help your kids develop healthy ways to deal with their fears
This post is part of the series Motivating Kids:
- Motivating Kids (1)
- Motivating Kids (2)
- Motivating Kids (3)
- Motivating Kids (4)
- Motivating Kids (5)
- Motivating Kids (6)
- Motivating Kids (7)
- Motivating Kids (8)
- Motivating Kids (9)
- Motivating Kids (10)
- Motivating Kids (11)
- Motivating Kids (12)
- Motivating Kids (13)
- Motivating Kids (14)
- Motivating Kids (15)
- Motivating Kids (16)
- Motivating Kids (17)
- Motivating Kids (18)
- Motivating Kids (19)