I hate conflict. I have a deep fear that it will result in a lack of connection. This has led me to be conflict-avoidant for most of my life. Ironically, by working through fear, I’ve discovered that in my most intimate relationships, true connection can’t happen without a willingness to engage in conflict. As professor and author Joseph Campbell said, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” In other words, we often find what we most need in the place we least want to look.
Fear isn’t inherently bad. In some cases, such as with strangers or a poisonous snake, it can be an appropriate and effective protective measure. But fear can also prevent us from growing. Most growth involves pain, and it’s critical for our sons to be working through fear if they are going to mature. Here are 5 ways to raise a son who will overcome his fears.
1. Do your own work.
Working through fear isn’t just difficult for our sons, but it’s difficult for us. If you aren’t careful, an unwillingness to deal with your own fears might inadvertently teach your sons that fear is the right response to challenge. Do you, like me, have areas in your life where you’re afraid (such as my conflict avoidance)? It’s time to model working through fear for your son.
2. Don’t coddle him.
Out of a desire to protect our sons, we’ll sometimes coddle them. It’s understandable. We want to protect them from discomfort because it’s, well, uncomfortable. However, we need to encourage our sons to step out of their comfort zones and try new things. Find out what their fears are. Challenge them to take risks (without endangering themselves). Don’t let them settle for what’s easy.
3. Make failure normal.Working through fear requires a willingness to fail.
Working through fear requires a willingness to fail. None of us enjoys failure, but if we allow our sons to be deterred out of the fear of failure, they’ll never become all they can be. As Winston Churchill famously remarked, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
4. Identify role models.
It’s rare to find people who won’t let their fears control them, so when you do, introduce them to your son (whether in person or from a distance). While, of course, you are the primary model for your son as to what it means to be a man, you can’t be everything to him. Find other men (and women) who offer a healthy model of working through fear and help your son to learn from them.
5. Encourage him.
Encourage your son. Think about that word: encourage. The word literally means to fill with courage. Use your words to build your son up and remind him that he’s stronger than he thinks he is and that he’s loved no matter what happens. There’s a proverb that says “the power of life and death is in the tongue.” That’s a deep truth. Use your words to fill your son with courage so he can enter into whatever cave awaits him, confident he will be able to handle what’s inside.
Sound off: What suggestions would you give for helping sons face their fears?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up and with your kids and ask, “When have you seen someone conquer a fear?”