How to Get Kids to Do Things They’re Afraid of

 

 

What This Is Like from a Parent’s Perspective


You understand that there are going to be things that kids are afraid of. But there are things that kids have to do, no matter how scary they are.

They have to go to visit the dentist.

They have to go to their first day of school.

They even have to learn to get up in front of people and talk.

So when they are resistant — sometimes even refusing to do what they need to do — you feel helpless and out of control. You know that you can’t MAKE them do certain things, but you don’t know what else to do.

 

What This Is Like From a Child’s Perspective

 

When children are afraid of something, they’re not necessarily aware that they are afraid. They just know that they won’t — they CAN’T — do the thing that someone is asking them to do.

So when they have to go to dentist…

Or when they have to go to their first day of school…

Or when they have to speak in front of people…

They’re not necessarily trying to be difficult. It’s more like everything in their body is resisting… almost as if their lives depended on it.

 

 

How It Usually Goes When

Kids Won’t Do What They’re Afraid Of

 

Scenario:

Neil is being dropped off at a babysitter’s house for a few hours while his dad goes to work. When Neil’s dad brings him to the door of the babysitter’s house, Neil refuses to go in. Neil’s dad is holding Neil’s infant brother, so he can’t pick Neil up and bring him inside. Neil knows this and takes advantage of it.

 

Neil: I won’t go in!

Dad: Oh yes you will!

Neil: No I won’t!

Dad: Neil, you have to go in. Mom and I both have to be at work today.

Neil: I don’t care!!

Dad: You’ll care when you can’t have any screen time tonight because you didn’t go in.

Neil: I don’t care about screen time! I am NOT going in there!

Dad: Neil! You’d better get yourself IN THERE. NOW!

Neil (yelling): I DON’T WANT TO!

Dad: Well I don’t want to go to work either, but I have to…

Neil: NO! NO! NO!

Neil continues to carry on outside of the house.

 

How It Could Go Instead When

Kids Won’t Do What They’re Afraid Of

 

Scenario:

Neil is being dropped off at a babysitter’s house for a few hours while his dad goes to work. When Neil’s dad brings him to the door of the babysitter’s house, Neil refuses to go in. Neil’s dad is holding Neil’s infant brother, so he can’t pick Neil up and bring him inside. Neil knows this and takes advantage of it.

 

 

Neil: I won’t go in.

Dad: Yeah, I know you don’t want to.

Neil: It’s not that I don’t WANT to. I WON’T.

Dad: OK. 

Neil: I’m staying here forever. 

 

CALM

Neil’s dad needs Neil to go inside. He also knows that getting upset and forcing Neil to do something will only make things worse.

So he stays calm and doesn’t make Neil feel more out of control. 

 

Dad (doesn’t say anything).

Neil: This place is stupid.

Dad (doesn’t say anything).

Neil: You can’t make me go in there.

Dad (doesn’t say anything).

Neil: This is dumb.

 

CONNECT

Instead of insisting that Neil go inside, his dad tries to see the situation from Neil’s perspective.

Neil’s dad connects by giving Neil respect and a little bit of time. 

 

Dad: OK. (Pauses one last time until he sees that Neil is more restless than nervous.) Well I’m going to ring the doorbell now and let Mrs. Nelson know we’re standing here.

Neil: Fine. But I’m not going in.

Dad: Yup, I heard that.

Dad rings doorbell and Mrs. Nelson answers.

Dad: Hi, Mrs. Nelson. I’m bringing in the baby. But Neil isn’t coming in.

Mrs. Nelson: OK, I’ll wait here with him. 

Dad comes back after putting the baby down. 

Dad: Hey, I’m leaving now… But Mrs. Nelson, do you still  have that job that you told me that only Max could do?

 

CORRECT

While Neil’s dad respects how Neil is feeling, he also needs to set a boundary and wants to give Neil tools to succeed. 

He knows he has to leave, so he offers Neil something new and engaging to focus his attention on. 

He focuses on being firm while teaching Neil tools to be successful

 

 

Mrs. Nelson: Well, I do… but… it’s inside. He’d have to come in to do it.

Dad: Hmm, he’s not going to come in. So I guess he won’t be able to be your helper.

Mrs. Nelson: Oh that’s too bad. Because ONLY Max can do this.

Max: What is it?

Mrs. Nelson : Can you come in and I’ll show you?

Max walks slowly in. 

 

 

What Needs to Happen for This to Work

 

Though Neil’s dad used the Calm, Connect, Correct strategy, proactive deposits will make all of the difference in how this situation plays out in the moment.

If you want to give your child tools to be successful (so they can face the things that scare them), remember: 

 

Depositing into CALM

You will only be able to stay calm when

a.) your own biological or emotional “needs accounts” are met (otherwise you won’t have a reserve to draw from and you’ll immediately go into Yuck)

b.) you don’t have the expectation that your children will have the same priorities that you do

When you make sure your own needs are met and you set realistic expectations PROACTIVELY, you are more likely to be able to stay calm. 

 

Depositing into CONNECT

You will be able to connect if

a.) you respect that ALL behavior has a reason and

b.) you understand those reasons (in a case like this, that when a child is afraid, they need to feel more in control, not less)

When you become comfortable with the reasons behind behavior PROACTIVELY, you will be able to connect more effectively. 

 

Depositing into CORRECT

You will be able to correct behavior by offering a tool if

a.) You have demonstrated consistently in the past that you mean what you say when you set a boundary like “I need to leave to go to work.”

b.) You have made enough deposits into your kids’ emotional needs that setting a boundary doesn’t put them immediately into Yuck.

When you demonstrate that you mean what you say and when you make deposits into your kids’ emotional needs PROACTIVELY, you  will be able to correct behavior more effectively.