Fear, Resiliency, and Tenacity

February 6, 2012 at 3:33 pm 1 comment

By Dr. Hollee Freeman

Recently, I decided to take my 11-year old daughter roller skating on a whim. We were driving by the rink and so—why not? The evening quickly became frustrating for both of us after her first tumble. After that, she simply refused to skate saying that she felt stupid, that she was not a good skater and that everyone was looking at her.  I pleaded with her to come back and skate, told her that she could hold my hand, hold the railing, skate with a friend (that she picked up at the rink) and more.  I basically began to beg her to continue skating. She made several halfhearted attempts to come back out and then she stopped skating altogether.

I decided to enjoy my time roller skating and hoped she was see how much fun I was having and then rejoin me. As I skated around the rink under the disco lights singing…and falling, I couldn’t help but wonder why she couldn’t do the same thing. What was happening in her mind that would not allow her to get up? to try again? to be okay with not being great at something and then practice?  Why wasn’t she acting in a resilient and tenacious manner? Was this experience a window into how she will handle novel situations in the future? Is there something going on here about being a pre-teen? I just wanted her to get up and try. This experience stuck with me for weeks afterwards as I thought about the roles of fear, resiliency and tenacity.

What makes some people push through challenging situations and others become paralyzed by fear and get stuck?

As I reflected on the roller skating experience, I reminded myself of an instance when my daughter was 7 and she began to complain that she didn’t enjoy reading because she “wasn’t good at it”. This confession hurt me to the core as a parent and as a teacher. I shook my head in disbelief thinking: “You mean you don’t want to read or do you feel that you can’t read?” In that instance, I was scared that my child was not resilient or tenacious in the face of what proved difficult nor not confident enough to be a learner and appreciate challenge.

So, what do you do when you are a scared parent who knows something about teaching and learning? -You start a book club with three friends and their daughters in order to provide a social purpose for reading. I used my daughter’s strengths as a social child and fit reading into that. I am happy to say that this idea has paid off (along with 2 excellent teachers). Four years later we are still reading amazing books and having amazingly complex conversations as a group.

Still, my daughter defaults more often than not to, “I can’t” and “it’s too hard” and “ I just don’t want to, Mom”.  I saw her peers advance in school and on the soccer field even though my daughter had comparable skills and experiences. As a parent and a teacher (and soccer coach), I was extremely distressed. I am a teacher who focuses on instilling in students a sense of being a learner (of loving the learning process).  It was if my own child was afraid to embrace a habit of mind around being a learner. She was unwilling (perhaps afraid to challenge herself).

How could this happen? Was I responsible for this in some way?  How could I fix this? Was it too late?

Our relocation to a different state seemed to provide my daughter with a way to reinvent herself. She was happy to be accepted into honors classes in her new school (after two weeks in the ‘regular’ classes) [Incidentally, I can’t believe that I just wrote that… I have never been a fan of tracking…another dilemma of being both a teacher and a parent.] Although, she embraced her new status in Honors Level classes, my daughter still did not display the level of resiliency and tenacity that I would like to see in her from my vantage point as both a parent as an educator. She does just enough to get by in school–nothing more.

How much can I push? What is the ramification if I don’t push? Can I live with that?

To my surprise, several weeks ago (at 11 years and 6 months of age), my daughter made a plan to  work on her homework with a friend via the computer. They Skype and sometimes, they even ask me to help them with their math homework among giggles. Phew. Sensing a shift in the atmosphere, I decided to go for broke and force her to work at something that she cares about and that doesn’t have anything to do with school.  Singing. I forced her to go to choir practice. Yes, forced. During the first practice, I had to threaten to drag her down the aisle while people watched which. As you might imagine, this is not a good scene in a church. She pouted and folded her arms the whole time the group was just singing and swaying to the music. I couldn’t help thinking that everyone was looking at me.  I felt so uncomfortable that wanted to take her home and say, “you win”…but I didn’t. I stuck with it and prayed and crossed my fingers and toes.

The second practice wasn’t much better. She was stiff and looked miserable in the choir loft and I couldn’t help but think- ‘ok, she won. I can’t force her to enjoy herself’… but I stuck with it and sent her the songs over email. Drumroll here… one day I heard her practicing the songs in her room over and over again. She was working through something challenging.

When it rains, it pours and as if by osmosis, she came home from school and said that she needed to start preparing for soccer tryouts. She put on her shorts and started exercising. She asked me to take her out running in the park to help her build her stamina. I had my sneakers on before she could finish the sentence.

We still have the issue of asserting herself as a learner in school but I’m confident that she has hit her stride.

When talking about issues of race and equity, Enid Lee would say something like, ‘You have to have a different experience in order to know that it can be different’. This idea fits here as well. So:

Perhaps my daughter needed to come into her own developmentally.

Perhaps she needed a mother who would not give up on her.

Perhaps she needed a teacher who would give her space to grow.

-still working on the school thing though-

Entry filed under: Child Centered, families, parenting, parenting. Tags: .

Progressive Education: What Lens Do You Look Through? Powerful Interactions

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Eleanor  |  February 21, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    Hollee –

    As usual, your writing makes me stop and think. Thank you!

    I’ve been giving some thought to your question “What makes some people push through challenging situations and others become paralyzed by fear and get stuck?”

    Definitely, a support team of caregivers, teachers, friends, aunties/uncles, grandparents, neighbors, etc. whom a young person knows they will have by their side through thick and thin. Solid connections with others is such a huge component of a young person getting up and trying something again and again no matter how difficult it is.

    One thing I noticed with children is that they are extremely passionate about wanting to do things, try things, master things. So when they come up against discouragement, they show their feelings full-out. I’ve also noticed that if I let them have their feelings out (crying, being angry, etc.) until they are finished doing that, they often hop back into the activity where they had originally run into the discouragement. I don’t try to talk them out of their feelings at all; I just stay nearby and listening until they are done.

    I can’t really take that approach in a school setting, but elsewhere, if it makes sense, I will give it a go.

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