Back to school: Teach your kids healthy risk-taking instead of self-sabotage

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. — Marianne Williamson

When I was in my twenties and first saw the words above, they were misattributed to Nelson Mandela. I’m grateful for the mistake because at that time, I don’t think I would’ve have listened to a middle-aged white woman spiritualist. Nelson Mandela, on the other hand, was a hero so I got teary eyed. I felt the truth of what “he” said, maybe for the first time in my life.

Today was the first day back at school for my kids, and last night our house full of the annual excitement and anxiety. Along with my kids’s emotions, my husband and I were dealing with The Schedule, which, like for all parents I think, is a source of unending, brutal calculation and miscalculation.

So here’s how a typical conversation went  about setting up the schedule with one of my daughters who loves art.

Me: Would you like to take an art class?

Daughter: I suck at art.

Stab in my heart Me: No, you don’t!

Daughter: I want to be good but I suck.

More stabbing Me: Why do you say that?

Daughter: I’m bad at art!

I really fucked up.  How did I fuck up so badly? My10 year old daughter is convinced she’s bad at art. Something as subjective, as dynamic, as unfixed as art. All art? How can this be? How can she love it and think she’s bad at it? And then I looked at her, and I saw fear in her face. I remembered Williamson. I thought she’s afraid to take a risk. What is making art about if not risk?

Me: Why don’t you try the class and see if you like it?

Daughter: I told you, I’m bad at art.

Me: Can I tell you something it took years for me to learn?” I said. “It may not be true for you, but it was true for me.”

Daughter: Okay.

Me: Saying or just thinking I was bad at something was a really safe place to be. When I put myself down, there was nowhere to fall. But if ever I was feeling good about myself, someone could always come along and knock me down.

She nodded.

Me: Here’s what I know now. Putting yourself down isn’t cool or modest, it comes out of fear, because you’re scared. And I totally get being scared. But trying something new is a much more helpful way to deal with fear. Maybe you won’t like this art class, but you could meet a kid in the class who will become your best friend, or maybe you’ll discover you like horses from drawing horses. Maybe you’ll find out you love pastels and not water color.  You don’t know what will happen, but anything could and that makes scary but exciting.

She was looking at me, not talking.

Me: When you try something new, there will times when you’re going to fail. Guaranteed.  hundreds, thousands of times, and that’s a great sign. Failure means you’re learning. If you’re not messing up, you’re not learning anything.

She told me she wanted to try the class. I hope she got the message I was trying to convey. When adults think about taking risk, we often think of dramatic behavior: climb Mount Everest, fly a plane across the Atlantic, but for a kid, a huge risk can be trying a new food or saying hi to a classmate. The truth is adults feel the same way about risk, because when it comes down to it, risks are emotional. I hope to teach my kids to risk experiencing the full range of their emotions, to understand humans are verbs, dynamic and ever-changing instead of pigeon holed, stagnate, and “safe.”

Please feel free to add any personal stories in the comment section about your family stays emotional healthy. I always want to learn more.




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