Bringing up a fearless child
Before I began to write this blog, I asked my 13-year-old son the meaning of “fearless”. He didn’t take a second to retort – “not having fear”. I countered him saying about what “having fear and moving on despite the fear? Does this qualify as fearless?” Pat came his reply, “Ofcourse!”
Fear & Uncertainty
One may choose to define the word “fearless” in as many ways. The truth remains that we all have our fears. I am not sure if there exists anyone who “does not have any fear”. Here I am reminded of what a young girl from a reputed school in Delhi once asked me while I was sharing with them experiences from my Siberian expedition – India’s First Overland Solo to the Pole of Cold. She asked “Weren’t you scared? How did you deal with the fear of being alone, the cold and what not?” I paused for a moment and then responded. I feel that fear emanates from the unknown. Anything you don’t know about creates a certain sense of fear. The unknown creates uncertainty, adversity etc. Through many years of wandering in the wilderness, driving on remote roads, I have learnt (I guess the hard way J) to deal with this uncertainty. To be ok even if there isn’t too much clarity, to be alright even if there seems to be doom all around and you don’t know what will follow, to take it in your stride even if your mission isn’t getting accomplished or you are falling through physically and mentally – for me these life lessons have contributed to making me reasonably ‘fearless’ i.e. acknowledging the fear and moving on despite it. Now life has become all about taking the bull by the horn and being ready for whatsoever challenge or adversity or uncertainty life may throw at me.
Are we born fearless or do we need to become fearless?
I have two sons and I have constantly strived to inculcate this attitude early on in life, for I believe that there isn’t anything called too early to begin. Children as you would realize are born “fearless”, I mean without fear. To fear is very much a learnt behaviour. So how do children learn this? It isn’t rocket science to predict that they pick it up from their environment, from the adults they constantly interact with, which in this case may be the parents, grandparents, maid etc. in the early years. So are we guilty of transferring our fears onto these infant or toddlers? I leave that judgement to you for each of our families are unique and I detest generalizations.
Check your reactions!
Let’s take a simple example of getting down from the bed or touching a hot cup of coffee. Take a moment to think about how you responded to your child when he/she attempted these tasks. “Don’t touch, it will burn you, don’t go to the edge you will fall” – have we heard these before? Now let me push the case to the other end of the spectrum. How about – “you can get down slowly if you want – onto your tummy, lower your legs slowly” or “let’s see what happens when we touch, did it hurt?” I leave the analysis and the repercussions of both these reactions to you the intelligent reader. I for one, followed the latter when it came to my children.
Navigating life full of uncertainty
During the initial years, there is so much uncertainty in a child’s life; but interestingly this uncertainty remains, just changes shape and form, at every stage in life. I believe that raising a child to deal with uncertainty is the biggest challenge and the most worthwhile gift a parent can give. It is easy to pass on fears. But where does a fear emanate from? From a certain inability to deal with the unknown. This is what we urgently need to fix. Our children are dealing with an extremely chaotic globalized world which promises to throw up the unknown at every step. How about consciously nurturing the ability or skill to deal with the unknown? Time to ponder – the why and how J.