In the last few weeks, I have both done something I felt awkward about and seen my daughter try out for something where she felt vulnerable. In both cases, I felt less than positive, to say the least! In fact, it stunk.
Regarding the case of myself, I walked into a new type of exercise class and felt embarrassed and uncomfortable, at first. However, I survived and found I enjoyed the class.
In the case of my daughter, I had the old mommy feeling where I wanted to slay anyone who might not realize how perfect she was. So, what’s the spiel with vulnerability?
Should We Put Our Children in Situations Where They Feel Vulnerable?
Several years ago, a friend of mine told me the story of sneaking her daughter out of preschool so she could avoid the Halloween parade, because her daughter was afraid of seeing the Halloween costumes.
Now, I remember thinking that it’s not unusual for three-year-olds to fear costumes and for their parents to want to protect them from being upset. However, I wondered what I would do if it were my child?
It’s so hard being a parent! There are not many concrete right or wrong answers for parents.
While, it is only natural for us to want to shield our children from being hurt—remember, from the first paragraph, I’m the mom that wants everyone to love my daughter at tryouts—I highly recommend that we absolutely do need to expose our children to situations where they feel vulnerable.
Benefits of Exposing Our Children to Situations Where They Feel Vulnerable
There are at least four good reasons to allow our children to be in situations where they feel vulnerable:
- Feeling vulnerable helps them bond and relate to others.
- Sometimes it’s better to let a child feel vulnerable than to send a negative message to the child by protecting her from being in the situation.
- Learning to deal with these vulnerable feelings helps children build their tolerance for risk.
- Feeling vulnerable in a situation, but staying with it, will help a person build confidence in her ability to persevere through difficulties.
- Vulnerability as a bonding experience
Have you ever been in the situation where you felt vulnerable and thoroughly ridiculous and then, sure enough, you find somebody who has done the same thing or felt the same way? For me, when I’ve been in this situation, I’ve felt a sense of relief to know I’m not alone, and it has led to a few strong friendships.
In the example of my friend with a child who was scared of the Halloween costumes, I believe this would have been something many of the other children and probably several of the other parents could have related to, and it would have been a great subject to discuss.
- Protecting children from situations where they feel vulnerable may unintentionally send them the message that they can’t handle these situations
It is important to think about the message that we are giving children when we avoid situations in which they might have felt vulnerable. For example, when my friend snuck her child out, what message might the child have gotten? Feeling like you’re having to sneak out the back door isn’t always the greatest feeling. Also, for older children, when they keep avoiding situations, they start to learn the message they aren’t competent.
- Vulnerability gives you a chance to learn risk taking
Some people are born with a temperament that makes them naturally better at taking risks than others. However, for most of us, the more practice you have taking risks, the easier it becomes. For example, if you have only once tried out for a sports team or a job and didn't get it, then it’s pretty had to try out for another. It would be a shame to miss all sorts of opportunities because you’ve never had the chance to learn to deal with risks.
- People learn to persevere
Related to risk taking, children and adults need to learn that life goes on even when they feel vulnerable.
For example, during my freshman year of college, I was in a large class of around 100 folks and had to write a paper and do a short presentation. I was so nervous, I remember asking the teacher if there was any way I could get out of the presentation. Well, he called on me the next day to get up in front of the class and he had me repeatedly say: “I am wonderful. I am wonderful. I AM WONDERFUL.”
I wanted to drop out of college, or at least drop that class, but I survived. For the next few years, people that I didn’t even know would come up to me and ask if I was still wonderful and, after a while, it did become funny. The point is that feeling vulnerable is not a weakness. On the contrary, it strengthens us. The more we persevere through these vulnerable feelings, the stronger we get!
So, whereas there have been many times I have felt like avoiding vulnerability at all costs, I realize these experiences have been valuable. In addition, as I have gotten older, the embarrassment stings a lot less.
It makes sense to me. For a person never to be vulnerable, she would have to isolate herself from others OR have extremely distant and cold relationships with other people. Also, avoiding vulnerability means avoiding risks.
It seems to me, we need to help children feel comfortable taking risks and being in situations where they are vulnerable.
In fact, I think the most well-adjusted and likable folks are probably the ones that have the most practice being vulnerable.
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