Encouraging others to fail

My son and I, finding our balance.

My son and I, finding our balance.

If you’ve read the story of my time in Barcelona, my struggle with anxiety and depression, and the three principles that helped me dig my way out of an episode with panic disorder, you will understand why courage and risk-taking are so important to me.

To recap (and if you’re sick of hearing about this, feel free to skip to the next paragraph), I went through a course of Brief Strategic Therapy to rewire my brain around my anxiety. The focus of the therapy was to use certain exercises to trick my brain into embracing anxiety rather than trying to eliminate it.

I was taught that coddling, validation and other demonstrations of ‘support’ (no matter how well-intentioned) are counterproductive and ultimately harmful to people with certain psychological or emotional disorders.

No, let me take that back.

I wasn’t taught that. It was hard-wired SO permanently into me that whenever I see anyone avoiding uncomfortable situations, displaying approval-seeking behavior, throwing problems over the fence at others, or generally acting like a victim of their own circumstances, my mind and heart harden into steel and rock.

I don’t love this about myself. It sounds harsh, and I share it mostly to provide context for what I’m about to say.

Nearly a decade after my own brush with debilitating anxiety, I wish I had the tools to dig deep and remember what it felt like to doubt my own abilities so much that I desperately needed to lean on other people to help me get things done despite my fear.

It’s not that I don’t want to help. It’s that I refuse to coddle and validate, because I know where that leads. I also have a difficult time knowing HOW to help (despite desperately wanting to) without betraying the principles I believe in so deeply.

Especially when it comes to my six-year-old son.

My son is a kind, caring, intelligent and thoughtful child. All his teachers and care-takers have described him that way. They also describe him as being unwilling to take risks in the learning process. He gets frustrated in circumstances he perceives as challenging, and he would nine times out of ten prefer to not try and certainly fail than to try and have a chance at succeeding.

At the ripe old age of six, he still comes to our bed at night because he’s scared of sleeping in his room by himself – despite the fact that it’s so close to my room he can hear me breathing from his little twin bed.

I want my son to grow up to be anything he wants, except someone who takes the safe road to unhappiness all his life because he’s afraid of a little failure.

So how do I help him get more comfortable with risk, without forcing or pushing?

He’s not old enough for me to reason with him. I don’t see any big red flags yet that would lead me to take him to a therapist (although we can all benefit from a little therapy, in my mind). But I don’t want to keep encouraging the kind of risk-avoiding behavior I’ve observed in him since he was old enough to display it – even if he is just a kid.

The only thing I know is what works for me. So I signed him up for yoga.

He went to his first class yesterday, at a place that offers children’s classes simultaneously with adult classes so the grown-ups can get their yoga in while the children indulge in an experience designed just for them.

It was my second class of the day, and my back, arms and shoulders were SCREAMING. But he loved it so much he asked to go back next week.

So I guess we’re going back then – I’ll let you know how my shoulders hold up.


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