By Sheikh Idris Watts
Chapter 9: Fear
Fear is one of the basest passions and we teach our children to be afraid of strangers, of the unknown, of the future. “An F! My God are you not ashamed of yourself!” Saying things like this teaches children to fear failure. A parent’s job is to help the child confront his fears, whatever they maybe, but not to reinforce them through word and deed. When you threaten a child for questionable behaviour you are teaching him to fear your wrath, and if he addresses the behaviour at all it is only because he fears the consequences. On the other hand, when you discuss the behaviour, without threats, you are conditioning him to address it in an environment free of menace. He will find his way because you helped him find his way, not because he was terrorized into doing so.
Fear robs us of vitality and humanity. Children who live in fear become less adventurous, less truthful, less alive. Fear is like a dark cloud that blocks out sunlight. The goal is to live fearlessly, with caution, not to live in so much caution that you live in fear. Fear is a hysterical response to an ingrained threat; caution is a calculated response to a real danger.
The only time something can defeat you is when you become afraid of it. Often a child will come to you with a fear that seems unimportant, and the temptation is to dismiss it out of hand. But what the child is really telling you is that he feels alone. Fear speaks to existential angst, even if the child is unaware of it. He wants to know that the world makes sense, that he has some power, that he is not as alone as he feels, and to dismiss his fear as unfounded is unhelpful in the extreme.
You must tell your child that no-one must ever let someone else decide whether you have value as a person. Only you have the power to make yourself feel better about yourself. If you give someone the power to make you feel good, you’re giving them the power to make you feel bad, too. If they invite you to their house you’re happy and if they don’t your sad. Why should they have that kind of power over you? In your zeal to be liked, to be popular, you are looking to them for approval. And while all of us want to be liked we have to ask ourselves: At what price?
Grades, popular opinion, style, fashion, looks – all of these can turn into sources of fear if we let them. A child must learn to be the arbiter of his own value.
This fear – that our lives count for nothing – is not the exclusive domain of children. We carry the feeling into adulthood, and it becomes increasingly complex. Nothing is ever enough – cars, houses, money – but we continue to use those things to measure our value as human beings. That is why it is so important to address children’s fears because this is the time to effect changes. Never let your child feel that his grade or his position on the team determines his value – it feeds fear. Tell him, “Good grades or bad ones no more determine your value as a person than the cool kid who thinks he is the arbiter of popularity.
A child’s fear of insignificance is understandable but it must not allow him to freeze into non-action. This strips us of our dignity.
There is only one legitimate fear and that is fear of God. If you cross that line you’re crossing the moral threshold – and you are flirting with wickedness and inhumanity. Teach them not to betray God’s moral code. If you live by His commandments, you have nothing to be afraid of. To live by His laws is to live a life free of fear.