Why Living by Our Circumstances is a Trap

I was having a conversation with a friend and fellow teacher at More Grace Outreach the other day. She had just gotten over to the other side of some not great circumstances in her family life. I mentioned the seemingly inevitable occurrence – whenever we think – I’ve got this, or everything is running smoothly, something goes wrong.

Not twenty minutes later, her one of her boys was in throwing up and she had to leave MGO, on top of that, there was a gas leak at one the properties she and hubby owned. If I were one of those people who believed in weird things, I could blame myself for her circumstances because I had said the words.

It seems a universal theme for all humans to have bad things happen. Not just once. But over and over. Not long after her new crisis, my family had a new one. I’m not going to list all the negative, bad, horrible events that come as a package deal with large family living. The more people in your family, the more things happening. It’s just math pure and simple.

My View Of God determined my Response

I used to think of God as a horrible dictatorial being in heaven with a giant sledge hammer meeting out punishment for every infraction. When I believed God had those characteristics, when something went wrong in my life, I immediately blamed myself. I went over my behaviors and attitudes and tried to figure out what I had done wrong. My next step was to ask God why He was punishing me. It wasn’t pleasant looking. I was full of self-loathing, fear, anxiety, and not enjoyable to be around. Let’s just say my fruit of the spirit dried up during these times. And if I’m honest, in times of super stressful situations, I revert to believing and thinking in “Everything is my fault. I made this happen” or “God is punitive.” I do now have a check in my spirit which quickly gets me back on track.

A Renewed View

A few weeks ago, my eldest son, post accident, post surgery was binge watching “The Good Doctor.” After a few episodes, I walked into the family room and he said, “Mom, even though you have been at the hospital A LOT for the past month, we are all really okay. We could have been so much worse.” And he is right. I had joked with the barista at the hospital Starbucks that I practically lived there.

I’m not saying all this to make light of surgeries, hospital stays, or horrific circumstances. Not at all. It’s just a trap to be living on the edge of what-bad-thing-is-going-to-happen-next sort of thinking. Guess, what? Stuff is going to happen. It’s better to change our mindsets to how we respond or how we prepare. If your life is totally great right now, that’s awesome. When I have times of calm I can develop a false faith. Kara Tippets calls it “manufactured faith” in her book The Hardest Place. I’ve been there. In my desire to feel secure (because of some trauma in my past), I manufacture faith by doing all the right things. Then when bad things happen, I feel betrayed as if my faith didn’t work at all. What about you? Do you struggle with that? Do you get tripped up by your circumstances?

The Outcome of Trials

I read this verse in Proverbs 11 and it put some ideas and beliefs into perspective:

When swelling and pride come, then emptiness and shame come also, but with the humble (those who are lowly, who have been pruned or chiseled by trial, and renounce self) are skillful and godly Wisdom and soundness.

When I have pride because my faith is based on my works, I feel empty and ashamed when things go wrong. And they will go wrong because we live in a fallen world. The emphasis on my faith here is in me, my ability to keep being “good.” When my eyes are fixed on Jesus, His power, His ability, when the trial comes and I renounce self, God chisels me. I get spiritually chiseled, godly Wisdom and soundness. Soundness says, “This terrible circumstance isn’t a punishment.” As Lysa Terkheurst says in Uninvited, “It’s impossible to hold up the banners of victim and victory at the same time.” Humility gives us the advantage of letting God’s hand work on us in the midst of the trial. We cannot let circumstances define or confine us. Circumstances are not the measure of our faith or our worth.

Are You Instilling Healthy or Unhealthy Fears in Your Child? (Capital Letter Syndrome/Foster/Adoption Edition)

No Fear

Is your child the opposite of fear?

Taking dangerous risks because he has no cause-and-effect thinking?

Does he think the laws of nature don’t apply to him?

When raising a child with a capital letter syndrome or one from hard places (a child who has experienced trauma), healthy fear is a little more muddled. While we want our kiddos to have healthy fears, some of them seem to be in a no-fear frame of mind when it comes to outdoor play and all fear when it comes to some other aspects of life. What’s going on here?

1. Lack of Cause-and-Effect Thinking

Kids who come home to us through foster care/adoption have had trauma. One of the five Bs affected by trauma is the brain. Kids who have had trauma have altered neurochemistry. The Hebbian principle states that what fires together, wires together.

Simply put, an infant’s brain is experience-expectant. Experiences wire the brain. This is where the attachment cycle comes in. The infant expresses a need and the parent meets that need, thousands and thousands of times, until eventually the loose “wires” in the brain are connected.

What does attachment have to do with healthy fears? Everything. When those “wires” connect, the child is “wired” for cause-and-effect thinking. If there are breaks in attachment (or the child has a capital letter syndrome), then cause-and-effect thinking is not in place. It’s as if the child has some lose “wires.” This isn’t to say that the child isn’t intelligent — in fact, it’s often the opposite. It’s just that he doesn’t expect B to happen if he does A.

Instilling Healthy Fears

What does this look like?

  • A child decides to catch bees in a jar but didn’t think they would sting him.
  • A child watches a video of a man leaping from limb to limb high in a tree and tries it. (Yes, this actually happened in my family, and yes, he fell.)
  • A child tries to ride his bike under the trampoline.
  • A child starts a forest fire playing with a lighter.
  • A child walks on the pool cover and their foot falls through.

These are all true stories, and I could tell many more, but the point is that in each of these cases, no cause-and-effect thinking was applied. You may say, “Well many kids are adventure seekers and do these sorts of things.” That’s true.

However, neurotypical kids have a learning curve after these types of adventures. Kids with capital letter syndromes and kids with trauma often don’t. They will continue to try to defy the physical laws of nature with intensity and regularity. They don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them.

Here’s a good test: If you warn your child that the activity he is about to embark upon may cause harm and he says, “I’m not going to get hurt, I’m not that stupid!” then cause-and-effect thinking probably isn’t happening.

Unrealistic or faulty connections

On the other end of the spectrum, these kiddos may have one bad experience and instead of adjusting their approach and trying again, simply declare, “I’m never doing that again!” What does this look like?

  • The child refuses to put sunscreen on (because he won’t get burned), gets burnt, and won’t go to the beach ever again.
  • The child falls off a rock while climbing, scrapes his knee, and won’t climb again.
  • The child doesn’t think he can do something, so he says it’s stupid and refuses to try.

Trying to instill healthy fears in these kiddos can be confusing. They need to be watched more closely and encouraged more than neurotypical kids to keep them safe and get them trying new things.

2. Felt Safety

Another conundrum with kids with capital letter syndromes/foster/adopted kids is they often don’t feel safe when they are safe. To describe this, we use the term “felt safety.”

“Felt safety, as defined by Dr. Purvis, is “when you arrange the environment and adjust your behavior so your children can feel in a profound and basic way that they are truly safe in their home with you. Until your child experiences safety for himself or herself, trust can’t develop, and healing and learning won’t progress” (p.48, The Connected Child).

Fear is crippling. I know. Not only have I watched my own kiddos struggle with feeling safe and talked to countless moms whose kids struggle with it, but I have also experienced it myself. My fears were an oddly shaped gift that, when opened, gave me empathy.

Because of some trauma in my past, I feared riding in the back seat of a car, going through tunnels, riding elevators, and more. My fears helped me understand my kiddos’ fears. Your child’s fears may seem weird or unrealistic to you, but they are super overwhelming to them.

“From research, we know that fear left unaddressed can have pervasive and long-lasting effects on a child, including negative impacts on cognitive ability, sensory processing, brain chemistry, brain development, ability to focus and ability to trust. As a result, it distorts and dictates much of what our children are dealing with.” – empoweredtoconnect.org

Instilling healthy fears and avoiding unhealthy fears is hit-or-miss with these kiddos. We keep trying, keep asking, and keep being flexible. No one wants their kids to be overwhelmed with fear all the time. No one wants their kiddos to get injured because they don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them, either. So, I’ll finish with some tips. Feel free to comment and add your own tips!

Tips for Instilling Healthy Fears and Disarming Unhealthy Fears in Kids From Hard Places or Kids With Capital Letter Syndromes:

  • Watch these kiddos more closely.
  • Talk them through their fear even if the solution seems obvious to you.
  • Help them try an activity away from the crowd.
  • Ask them what they need.
  • Remember that they don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them.
  • These kids have enough fear; don’t instill more.
  • Clap for them if they accomplish an outdoor feat even if you think it is below their ability. Baby steps.

On the one hand, you are instilling healthy fears and calming ones that seem far fetched and unrealistic to you. On the other hand, when you provide fun, S.A.F.E. activities, you are relieving fears, which is healthy!

This week on the podcast, Amerey and Kathleen talked about healthy summer living/eating on a budget. They delved into the topic of healthy fears when discussing some outdoor activities. You can listen here. And don’t forget to check out Part 1 of this article, the Neurotypical Edition, here.

Are You Instilling Healthy or Unhealthy Fears in Your Child? (Neurotypical Edition)

Are you instilling healthy or unhealthy fears in your child?

Are your child’s fears keeping them from playing outdoors? Taking calculated risks?

“A generation of children is not only being raised indoors, but is being confined to even smaller spaces. Jane Clark, a University of Maryland professor of kinesiology . . . calls them “containerized kids”–they spend more and more time in car seats, high chairs, and even baby seats for watching TV. When small children go outside, they’re often placed in containers–strollers–and pushed by walking or jogging parents. . . Most kid-containerizing is done for safety concerns, but the long term health of these children is compromised. (35)”

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

This week on the podcast, Amerey and Kathleen talked about healthy summer living/eating on a budget. They delved into the topic of healthy fears when discussing some outdoor activities. You can listen here.

I was at the beach with family. Two of my young granddaughters were playing in “pool” Graypaw dug them and gleefully screaming every time the surf washed into it, drenching them. A grandfather and his granddaughter stopped for a minute to watch. Then they decided to stay for a while. He sat on the beach with her on his lap as she watched my granddaughters will wild-eyed wonder.

“She’s afraid of the water,” the grandfather explained. “She won’t go near it. I just wanted her to watch some kids enjoy the beach without fear.”

Fear Has a Job

Fear – an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

Fear isn’t a bad thing when it’s healthy. Fear’s job is to keep us safe. Fear stops us from doing things that will harm us. We would like our kids to fear jumping in the deep end of the pool when no one is around. We’d also like kids to fear running out into the road.

For years, my sister lived up a long lane connected to a busy road. Her young son loved to go across the gravel road and spend time talking to an elderly lady who was like a grandmother to him. They became concerned that he would go down the lane to the busy road and needed to tell him emphatically not to do that. His parents needed to instill a healthy fear.

Not long after that, a cat was run over on the main road. My brother-in-law walked my nephew down and showed him, saying, “The car smashed him flat!” It worked — my nephew told everyone about the cat and said the car could smash him flat, too. That’s a healthy fear.

How Do You Instill Healthy Fears?

“Fears can be healthy and children should be encouraged — and helped — to develop what Lucas calls a “sense of knowing” when something could bring harm. But parents should balance risks, fears and over-protectiveness with the importance of encouraging children to be independent and show initiative. ‘If a parent is present in their children’s lives, he or she is the child’s guide — not their guard,” she said. “If children grow up feeling confined, they are at risk to act out their parent’s greatest fears. Measured freedom is the best teacher.’”-  When Fear Drives Parenting What Happens to the Kids? from desertnews.com

Measured freedom and healthy fears don’t stop a child from exploring his environment. A toddler will climb a rock that is eight inches off the ground and yell, “Look at me!” A five-year-old will climb a bit higher and jump further. These kids try things that make their blood tingle with healthy fear, and that’s good.

My summer childhood days were full of outdoor fun. My brothers and sisters and I went creek jumping, rode our bikes around our country neighborhood, played for hours in a pine forest, and only went home for dinner. Then we went back outside for some kick the can and flashlight tag. I had plenty of fears, but none of them had to do with playing outdoors. I knew to stay away from the train track when I heard a train (okay, we put pennies on it and ran for our lives). We had no screens, phones, or other things to distract us from the joy of the outdoors.

“Years ago, children roamed their neighborhoods, often playing with any kids they ran into, choosing many activities on the fly as ideas presented themselves. Nowadays, parenting often defaults to a take-no-chances approach of scheduled play dates and supervised visits to the neighborhood park, offering little room for children to grow by exploring, which can spill over into other aspects of their lives.” – When Fear Drives Parenting What Happens to the Kids? from desertnews.com

Things have changed. Parents have more fears, and so do kids. Most people don’t live somewhere it is actually safe to send kiddos outdoors unsupervised for the day. This is where measured freedom comes in.

Take your kiddos to a creek, state park, lake, pool, or [fill-in-the-blank] and be present. Let your kids develop the sense of knowing they need to have healthy fears. There is nothing like a scraped knee or chin to let you know you jumped from too high a height. An ocean wave knocking you down in the surf tells a kid the ocean is fun and not to be messed with at the same time. Tromping across the creek and slipping on a mossy rock teaches a child that the green ones are slippery.

And guess what? You can totally do all of this with your child. No need to bring a chair to sit on. Lose your phone (except to take a few photos) and rejoice with your kids in their triumphs.

Don’t “help” children climb, jump or balance on objects. If you can resist assisting children, it will make their experience safer, as well as give them the opportunity to face challenges that are appropriate to thei.png

Don’t “help” children climb, jump or balance on objects. If you can resist assisting children, it will make their experience safer, as well as give them the opportunity to face challenges that are appropriate to their abilities. – Jason Runkle Sperling, author of Unplugged: How To Build A Family Nature Club

Instilling Unhealthy fears

One last thing: Don’t instill unhealthy fears in your child.

I know it’s hard. Some of us have generational fears. That’s not some spooky weird thing as if someone were chanting and cursing you. Fear can be a curse, but not in that way. I’ve met people who never learned how to swim because their parents were afraid of the water. We all know those parents (or are those parents) who helicopter over our kids telling them of all the horrible things that can happen to them if they go out the front door.

The most horrible thing about instilling unhealthy fears in your kids is that, to some degree, they will come true. They will fall off the swing, get stuck on the slide, and hurt their appendages on a trampoline. It’s going to happen. Instead of saying, “See, you can’t do that!” help the child work through the fear by letting them tell you what happened a few hundred times. Then put it into perspective.

I had an opportunity to help my niece work through a fear on a recent visit. She fell from a swing a few years ago, and although she didn’t break anything, it was painful. She told me she couldn’t swing high anymore because she was afraid. So, I talked her through it. I asked her some questions, let her answer, and then got on the swings with her. We swung really high. I even showed her how to hang upside down, and she tried it.

Effects of Unhealthy Fears

  • Kids won’t enjoy activities.
  • Kids will miss out and stay on the sidelines of life.
  • As adults, these kids will pass their fears on to the next generation.

Healthy Fears Checklist

  • Don’t be a fear-based parent.
  • Speak the truth. Don’t exaggerate what will happen if they _______.
  • Save the “you’re really going to get hurt” for the things that they really will get hurt on!
  • Let them fall from 8 or 12 inches when they are small. If you rescue them every time, they won’t develop healthy fears.
  • They will respect the physical laws of nature by incremental degrees if you give them measured freedom.
  • Don’t wait until they are 6 or 8 to let them hike, climb, etc.
  • Provide S.A.F.E. activities.

What are you waiting for? Go outside and play!

This week on the podcast, Amerey and Kathleen talk about healthy summer living/eating on a budget. They delve into healthy fears when they talk about some outdoor activities. You can listen here.

And be sure to check out Part 2 of this article: “Are You Instilling Healthy or Unhealthy Fears in Your Child? (Capital Letter Syndrome/Foster/Adoption Edition)”