By Jess Burnett Founder of Mind Traction, Mum of 3 and Secondary School teacher
THE MEANINGFUL GIFT YOU SHOULD BE GIVING YOUR CHILD.
Photo by Joseph Gonzalez on Unsplash
Did you know that Bill Russell, one of the greatest players in NBA history (winner of 11 championships in 13 years), often vomited before big games due to nerves and anxiety? Or, that Adele (Grammy Award-winning artist) vomits before nearly every concert due to stage fright and fear?
When we think of confident people, we often think of our leaders, our stage performers and our sports stars. The truth is many of these people are not as naturally self-confident as we may at first perceive. They suffer from fear just like you, and I do.
How do they become so successful, and why can’t we all do what they do? Well, you can, if you have the mindset, stamina and determination. Because, the long-story-short is that they develop their ability to fight, rather than take flight!
Unfortunately, most of the population grow up without the mindset or skillset to fight through their challenges, and instead, they end up choosing to flee, quit and give up every time things get tough.
Thankfully, right now, you have the opportunity to change this for your kids and make a positive impact on the direction their life is going to take.
NATURE VS NURTURE
Nature has created humans to possess a small, but essential, region of the brain known as
the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for allowing your body to feel certain emotions and perceive them in other people; this includes fear. The fear response has been a necessary part of human survival throughout our existence.
Also known as the fight-or-flight response, when the amygdala recognizes fear, we can choose our reaction. There are times when ‘flight’ is a necessary response. Still, in this article, we are talking about taking steps towards achieving our goals and cultivating a life of happiness, fulfilment and success. When we fail as we pursue our dreams, a flight response will leave us in a disappointed, stationary state – not the position we want our children to live their lives!
So, how can we give our kids the tools to activate the fight response when they encounter challenges, set-backs and failures in their life?
There are several ways, but I want to take you back to the beginning and remind you of the natural drive, commitment and motivation with which your child entered this world.
First, your child learned to smile, and then they discovered the joy in babbling. Perhaps then they explored the fun of rolling over, crawling and walking. Maybe they went on to jump, climb, feed themselves, talk, draw, and kick a ball.
You might have given them some encouragement as they worked towards each of these milestones (hopefully, you did!). The reality is, for the majority of the population, they would have reached them regardless. Why? Because nature designed the human species to be motivated to learn, thrive off a challenge, and keep trying. And, that is what babies do!
I have yet to meet a baby who doesn’t want to explore a new activity or challenge, and I am still searching for the baby who is afraid of being judged by their peers.
When we consider young children, on the other hand, I’ve met many who suffer from fear of challenges and anxiety over peer judgement. So, what happened between birth and childhood?
They were nurtured.
A child’s environment and exposure to being nurtured by those they love drastically shapes their self-belief and their self-confidence. Heck, it shapes their mindset altogether! So as a parent who wants the best for their child, you need to be intentional about setting up your child’s surroundings. As Jim Rohn once said, “You become the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
As already mentioned, the amygdala is present from birth and provides a baby with an innate ability to recognize fear. The fight or flight response naturally kicks in for our little ones just as it does for adults, but babies can’t yet differentiate between the two. During the development of fear awareness and the fight or flight response, is where a nurturing environment provides the opportunity for self-confidence to either thrive or fade.
As the number one influence in our children’s lives and their very first teachers, we need to be intentional about always encouraging them to step outside of their comfort zone, to push and challenge themselves and to be confident in their ability to try. I am not saying we need to be forcing our babies into things that they genuinely don’t want to do. It’s a delicate balance between encouraging our little people to like to grow, learn and develop, without compelling them to a situation which will ultimately break parent-child trust and security boundaries. You need to know your child to know where that boundary sits.
In the right environment and with the right role-models, we can teach our children when it is an absolute must to flee (danger, risk of physical harm, etc.). We can also teach them when to fight through their emotional response of anxiety and fear, step outside of their comfort zone, and try something new.
Rachel Kable from The Mindful Kind explains comfort zones well. She states, “Your comfort zone is like your home. It’s a secure place where you can stay within the boundaries and feel comfortable and safe. However, we do enjoy exploring outside of our homes too. Without exploration, we grow bored and frustrated and isolated. We miss feeling the sunshine on our skin, the thrill of discovering new places, the challenges that arise from the unknown. The more we explore, the more we become familiar with new parts of the world. Initially, we might become familiar with our neighbourhood, then places we visit regularly (such as work, shops, school or friends’ houses), then other states, or even different countries! The same is true for our comfort zones.”
Babies will undoubtedly experience hesitation when faced with a new challenge. That’s their inherent knack of identifying their comfort zone at play. It is how we, as their role-models, react to this hesitation that shapes their future path.
By reacting in a way that encourages a drive to keep going, we are opening our children up to many new learning experiences, helping them to develop the essential skill of evolving from mistakes and allowing them to explore a range of challenging emotions. When our children explore outside of their comfort zones, they discover more about themselves and their capabilities, thus increasing their motivation to continue their journey in the world.
Help your kids to explore outside of their comfort zone by doing everyday things differently. Try out a different park, explore new food, play a new game or test out a new puzzle. Use affirmations with your children to give them a little boost of self-belief, such as “I am capable,” “I am confident,” or “I love challenges which help me grow.”
Teach your kids that when they step outside of their comfort zone, they are not striving for perfection; they are just there to have-a-go, make mistakes and learn something new. They will often need time to adjust to a unique situation or new challenge, which is perfectly normal. Be patient.
When you see that your child has extended themselves beyond optimal stress, help them to return to the secure base of their comfort zone so that they may recharge and prepare to launch back out into the next challenge that might arise.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”– Neale Donald Walsh (Author, Actor, Speaker)
COMMIT TO COURAGE
If you want to raise your children to be committed to growth, lifelong learning and achieving success, you need to prepare them with a mindset that can recognize hesitation and self-doubt.
You need to teach them how to overcome these things through a robust sense of self-belief and self-confidence. If you nurture this mindset from birth, you can gift your kids with the self-assurance that they can rise to any occasion.
Nurture their natural-born instinct to explore challenges by encouraging your children to be confident in stepping outside of their comfort zone and trying something new. It is crucial to ensure that your kids don’t remain stagnant in their comfort zones for too long. This is when they encounter a loss of direction and focus on their familiar capabilities, resulting in growth opportunities being drastically limited.
Fear is a normal emotion from which no one is immune. But, by teaching your kids to be intentional about their choices and actions, and committing to a mindset of hard work and effort, every child can overcome roadblocks and achieve their goals.
It is the continual fight to surpass fear, and a repeated persistence in developing self- confidence, that leads people like Bill Russell and Adele to achieve their success when many others choose to quit and give up.
As Abraham Maslow, one of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century stated: “At any given moment, we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.”