Parenting Guide: Teaching Confidence in Fearful Situations

By Greg Baer M.D.

November 21, 2023

On several occasions, I have asked audiences of parents, “Everyone knows that the primary job of parents is to protect their children from pain? Yes? Show of hands.”

Every hand goes up. 

Who could disagree with such an obvious truth, right?  

Well, I disagree, for one. Our job as parents is to teach our children how to LIVE with pain in such a way that they become stronger and more confident.

THAT is our job. 

Can Confidence Be Learned from Pain?

Learning is NOT possible without making mistakes, and many of those are quite uncomfortable. They hurt—sometimes a lot. And the hurts of the world WILL happen to us—and to our children.

We can’t control every risk. We can only learn to live with them, accept the pain that is unavoidable, and become stronger from our experiences. Einstein said, “There is only one road to true human greatness: the road through suffering.” 

Where Confidence Comes From 

A mother wrote to me and said, “Every time we go to the beach, our two-year-old screams if we get anywhere near the water. Then one of us—my husband or myself—has to take the baby up on the beach, where the sand is too hot, and then the baby screams again. Or we have to go back to the car. It really makes trips to the beach inconvenient—miserable, really—for everybody. I know we’re not supposed to do things that frighten our children. I’ve read that it can leave scars on them. So how can we deal with this?”  

NO, it’s not true—it’s wrong even—that we’re supposed to protect children from pain. They learn from pain, but I hasten to say that I’m not advocating more pain. Not at all. Pain alone does not teach. Pain alone, unremitting pain especially, only leads to desperation and hopelessness.  

No, it’s our responsibility—and privilege—to SHEPHERD, love, and guide our children through pain. Pain plus love leads to learning and a sense of confidence. When children feel loved in the midst of pain, they learn that they can handle the tough stuff in life.

Children CANNOT learn true confidence until they learn to handle the pain of inconvenience, injustice, and injury, both real and potential. THIS is where true confidence comes from.  

Confidence for Kids

We WANT to expose our children to difficult experiences, even pain, under circumstances where we know they won’t be overwhelmed, where we can teach them how to respond and become strong.  

I told all this to the mother of the child afraid of the water, and I gave her some specific instructions about how to love and teach her young son.  

A week later, she wrote and said, “Today was the best vacation day ever. We went to the beach. I did exactly what you taught me. I held my son close to my chest and simply walked into the water. Of course, he whined loudly and said he wanted to stay in the sand, and then he cried.

"I kept holding him close, then I leaned his head back and looked into his face. I said, ‘Listen to me. I love you. Look at my eyes. I will protect you. You will be okay.’ I kissed his face. And then we laughed and played in the water for two hours, and he loved it. Thank you for helping me and my son get through the fear.” 

Why Confidence is Important 

No kidding, that happened. Boom!! In ONE MINUTE, this mother transformed the fear of a child and the frustration of an entire family to peace, confidence, and even FUN for everyone, including the previously frightened child.

When your child is afraid, don’t rescue them. Don’t pick them up and coddle them with every fall. Don’t sympathize with them when they express their fears. 

Love them, embrace them, teach them, and make them strong enough to deal with the falls, the beach, the cuts, the difficult school assignments, the bullying, the anger of others. Love and teach them. You’ll be saving their lives.  

Want to learn more?

Learn how to teach your children confidence in themselves.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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