Yesterday I took you outside to the playground. You were enjoying yourself, playing in the little house above the slide. Then suddenly you made a little frightened noise, ran out of it, and said “What’s that?! What’s that?!” It was a bug. You announced that you didn’t like bugs, that you are afraid of bugs, and that you wanted to go inside. I convinced you to play on the see saw instead, away from the dreaded bug at the top of the slide.
You enjoyed the see saw. You asked me to help you go faster, so I did. Then you got just a little too fast, and it scared you. You wanted to get off the see saw. You wanted to go inside. I convinced you to stay on the playground, though not on the see saw.
You decided to climb up to the top of the wall and walk along it. You always seem to enjoy being up high, as long as I’m beside you to offer a hand if you feel unsteady or if you need to climb from one level to the next. But yesterday, you weren’t on the wall long before you said, “Aaah! A bug!” You wanted to go inside.
I refused to let you. I told you something that may be one of the most important things I have told you in your short life thus far. I said, “It’s ok to be afraid, Alexa. Everyone is afraid sometimes. But you need to be stronger than your fear.” You didn’t really hear it, yesterday. Three years old is too young to truly understand it. So I’m going to say it to you again in writing, in more detail, so that one day, when you are able to understand, you will. This is one of the most important pieces of advice I can give you, child; heed it.
You need to be stronger than your fear. You cannot allow your fear to control you. You must control it.
Fear is a normal and natural part of life. It can save your life, when you experience and react to it appropriately. But when you experience and react to it inappropriately, it can destroy your life. You can’t always control when and how you experience fear. But you can control how you react to it.
When you feel fear, you need to understand why. What are you afraid of? You must identify the source of your fear because that knowledge will allow you to determine two much more important pieces of information—is it logical to fear this thing or this situation, and what reaction from you will give you the best chance at the best outcome?
If you see a snake and feel fear, the first thing you need to know is whether or not this snake is dangerous. Is it poisonous or otherwise deadly? If not, then don’t let your fear of it drive you away. If it is—or if you don’t know if it is—then you know that the logical response is to remove yourself from its presence, either by killing the snake or by leaving. Unless you develop skills and knowledge that your mother has not developed, you will see a snake, experience fear, have no idea if it’s a dangerous snake or not, and get yourself away from it. This is the logical reaction when dealing with a snake that may or may not be dangerous.
If you see a bug and feel fear, identify why you fear it. Do you fear it because it’s a bee that may sting you? Or just because it’s unfamiliar and you think it’s a little gross? Even if it can hurt you, how badly can it hurt you? Chances are, it can hurt you just a little bit, and hurting you will kill it, so it is not motivated to hurt you unless you provoke it. So don’t provoke it, but don’t allow yourself to be driven away from an activity you enjoy because one bee that doesn’t want to hurt you is nearby. If it’s not a bee that can hurt you at all, then even if you can’t make your fear go away, make yourself behave as though you’re not afraid. This is the logical reaction when dealing with a bug that can do minimal, if any, harm to you. Be stronger than your fear.
Fear can be difficult to control. So practice. Don’t run away at the first bit of fear. Just as you enjoy the thrill—the slight fear—of being high on the playground wall, because you know logically that you don’t have to fear falling as long as I’m there to catch you, learn to enjoy the thrill of other new and challenging but not particularly dangerous situations. Explore. Climb walls and trees, if we ever find any that are climbable. Talk to new people. Try new things. Challenge yourself, and don’t back down from any situation just because you feel a little apprehensive—not unless your logic, rather than merely your emotion, tells you that it’s too dangerous for you.
Practicing now will help you immeasurably later. Talking to new people now will help you make friends when you eventually go off on your own, to college or a job as an adult. Overcoming your fear of bugs and creepy crawlies now will make it possible for you to enjoy being outside later, when you want to enjoy a cookout or play sports or go to the swimming pool. And in general, learning to be stronger than your fears now, when it may seem unimportant, will teach you to be stronger than your fears later, when it may be very important indeed.
If you learn to be stronger than your fear, you will do what’s right in the face of pressure to do what’s wrong.
If you learn to be stronger than your fear, you will not freeze in an emergency situation where quick action is required.
If you learn to be stronger than your fear, you will deal with difficult or scary situations before they become even harder to manage.
And even if these more extreme situations do not come to pass for you, if you learn to be stronger than your fear, then you will open up a whole world of possibilities for yourself. You may or may not choose to go hiking or camping or rock climbing—but your decision will be made based on whether you think you would enjoy those activities, not on whether you’re too afraid of the bugs or the snakes or the height. You may or may not choose to try the exotic new food or vacation in the exotic location—but if you choose not to, it won’t be because you’re secretly afraid that you can’t handle the unknown. You may or may not choose to marry or have children—but if you choose not to, it won’t be because you’re afraid of the lifelong commitment or the responsibility.
You were not created to be a slave to fear, Alexa. But you will be. Unless you learn to control it. Be stronger than your fear. Make it your slave, not your master. Use it as a tool to warn you, not a wall to stop you.
Your mama and your daddy will always love you, Alexa, but when it comes to your fear, it’s yours, and you must decide what to do with it. We will do our best to help you. To let you do things that are not perfectly safe or comfortable. To help you learn that even when you fall, you’ll be ok and you can get back up and try again. But your daddy and I cannot force you to master your fear. We cannot force you to be strong. We will help you, but the decision and the work must be yours.
Be stronger than your fear.