Dangers, those things that make us feel vulnerable and at risk, come in two broad forms. Outer dangers are things outside of us that threaten us in some way. Inner dangers emerge from thoughts and concerns that we experience as negative emotions. Outer dangers include violence, unsafe equipment, natural disasters, handling machinery without the requisite skill and the like. Some of the inner dangers children face are risks of shame, embarrassment, of being punished, rejected or shunned. Author and Psychologist Rick Hanson commented in one of his Newsletters (July 5, 2016) that children respond to these kinds of inner dangers by putting on a mask, constraining who they are, in order to deflect unwanted attention. Sometimes those masks may come in the form of concealing parts of oneself, not raising one’s hand, not offering views, following unobtrusively. Other times, they may involve taking the stage and presenting oneself as the clown, the leader, the rebel. All of these are contractions, keeping parts of oneself hidden that may lead to painful experiences.
There are some ways to help your child feel fewer of these inner dangers. One is to promote feelings of self love, self compassion and self respect. You can do this by working with the first two Guiding Principles, “Love Genuinely” and “Interact Respectfully.”
In particular, recall that “Loving Genuinely” doesn’t just mean offering love without qualifications attached, but also loving oneself. Children, too, need to open to self love and self compassion. As you grow in your own self love, you are showing your child how to do the same.
An important part of respectful interaction is trust. Building mutual trust between parent and child is a focus of that principle, but building trust in one’s self is also vital. If a child loves and trusts who she or he is, a gentle confidence is created. That confidence, that loving trust in one’s self, helps children (and adults!) drop their masks. They needn’t conceal what they already like and accept. Interestingly, that authenticity makes others comfortable as well, often drawing friends and building supportive social connections.
Another of the Guiding Principles, “Set Up Success,” offers ideas for concrete ways to help children avoid the inner dangers of fearing embarrassment or shame or rejection. You can use this to help your child be prepared, by encouraging him to complete assignments, practicing skills he will be called on to use, and anticipating or role playing upcoming events that will stretch your child or teen.
If you have some specific ideas about offering support that helps your child avoid some inner dangers, or you have a success story, please share these in Forum.