(This is the first part of the Raising a Brave Girl? Blog series. Check out the Intro: Are You Brave Enough To Raise a Brave Girl?)
I remember a cartoon where the parent says, “I want you to become a mover and shaker. I want you to defy rules and stand up for what you believe but… Not yet!” Sound familiar?
Raising Brave Girls does not always come naturally. It is not intuitive parenting for most. In this series, I’ll tell you why. And I’ll show you what you can do to help your daughter be the bravest girl on the block. First though, let’s make sure we are on the same page. Although people say they “feel brave,” brave is not a feeling. Merriam-Webster defines Brave as: “Having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty.” The feeling behind bravery is courage.
How do you teach courage? The same way you teach all other feelings. But, if you’re like most parents, you probably help her let go of negative feelings and focus on the positive ones.
The tricky thing about this though is that our brain processes ALL feelings -good or bad- similarly. We evolved to experience a wide range of feelings because they are helpful for our survival. Each feeling has an opposite, and it cannot exist without it. We can’t experience happiness if we don’t know sadness. There’s no pride without a struggle that was overcome.
There is no courage without fear
When it comes to feelings, we cannot train our brain to feel certain feelings and ignore others. I often use the example of sound proofing a room. You can’t soundproof it only to certain types of sounds. You can’t build a room that allows you to hear the birds but blocks the sound of traffic. If you live on a busy street, you can only hear the birds by allowing the sound of traffic to reach you as well.
How does this apply to your daughter and her feelings? Basically, she can’t simply turn off a negative feeling to turn on a positive one. She needs to first make peace with the negative, to fully embrace the positive.
We are wired this way for survival. Our brain produces negative feelings much faster and frequently than it produces positive feelings. This is because cavewomen who were best at noticing dangers were more likely to survive than those who were carefree. When a lion chases you, fear will give you the energy to escape – noticing pretty flowers will get you killed.
Alright, so she is wired to notice negative feelings first. But wait, it gets worse! Negative feelings are very persistent. They don’t just go away. You can’t rationalize away your daughter’s feelings. Ever tried to explain to a preschooler why she shouldn’t be frustrated? How did that go?
So are we supposed to just give these feelings free reign? That sounds fun… NOT! And no, that’s not what I recommend. There is a middle way between trying to control your feelings and being controlled by them. That in-between is where you sit with your feelings. Sitting with a feeling is different from merely experiencing it. When you sit with it, you stop reacting to it. Instead, you pay closer attention to the feeling, really noticing what it feels like. This is much more controlled than just letting the feeling flow through you, making you do all kinds of things (think stomping up the stairs and slamming doors).
When you sit with a feeling, you bring attention to it, shifting yourself to something called the “observing mind.”
When you are in your observing mind, your feelings lose some intensity. In your observing mind, you notice the feeling, and how it affects you. Most importantly, your observing mind lets you listen to what your feeling is trying to communicate.
Yes, negative feelings are trying to tell you something
If you listen carefully, they will move you in a positive way. All feelings serve a purpose. Without anger, there wouldn’t have been a civil rights movement. Without sadness, we can’t connect to our pain or the pain of others. Without fear, we behave recklessly.
So, back to the original question… Want to raise a Brave Girl? Want her to build courage? Allow her to connect with fear.
What is her fear trying to say? If she does the thing she fears, what could happen? Is her fear trying to keep her safe? Maybe it’s directing her to consider negative outcomes – and how to avoid them.
Next time your daughter tells you that she is scared, try something different. Hold back from responding with, Don’t be scared, or You’ll be fine! Refrain from solving the problem for her. Instead, take some time to join her observing mind. What does she fear? What thoughts go through her head when she is afraid? What happens next? Does she have ideas on what to do about it?
Allowing your child to entertain her fears in this way may also bring up feelings for yourself. What do you fear? Are you worried that your daughter will become overwhelmed if she allows these thoughts and feelings to grow? Can she handle it?
A Brave Girl is not fearless
She knows fear very well. She makes fear her partner. Fear shows her what dangers to avoid. Fear tells her what’s at stake. Because fear wants to keep her safe at all costs, it tries to convince her that the worst-case scenario is the most-likely scenario. But she is not ruled by fear. She listens, then makes her own choices. She taps into courage and decides to do what’s right for the world, and not what’s safest for herself.
Confession: As a parent myself, and after just writing the previous paragraph, I’m terrified. I want to keep her safe. But parenting is not for the faint of heart. I guess I’ll have to be Brave… Like a Girl!
Continue with Part 2 of this blog series:
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