Travel is a wonderful way for a family to bond, for children to learn, and to create lasting family memories. Travel is also an incredible way to help children face their fears and overcome them.
We were on the verge of mutiny and dangling 400 feet in the air. “This seemed like a good idea online.” I thought. All five of us were shuffling our way across the Capilano Suspension Bridge just north of Vancouver, British Columbia.
It was a warm, sunny day with patchy blue skies, and we were surrounded by the gorgeous old forest. 400 feet below us was a shallow river with pretty waterfalls and a gravel bed. We were seeing a view usually reserved for soaring birds.
The only problem? We were crossing the bridge in line behind an elderly woman taking very small steps. Very. Slow. Small. Steps. All I wanted to do was get us across before my sensitive and anxious child had a complete meltdown. She had been a little nervous on the cliff walk earlier, but she’d handled it like a champ.
Now? Not so much.
It was time for us to employ coping strategies and survive this dealio. I took her hand and we started talking. We talked about how the cables supported us. We discussed the beauty of the view. It was mentioned that mom and dad wouldn’t take her on something that was truly going to hurt us. I told her that I wasn’t comfortable on the bridge either, but I knew it would hold us.
Finally. Security and solid ground were under us again. We had made it across the most challenging bridge of my life. Whew.
We high fived and patted each other on the back. Then, my wheels-are-always-turning child looked around and asked, “How do we get back to the parking lot?” When I told her the only way was back over the bridge, I had one not-thrilled child on my hands.
I realized I had made a big mistake in parenting. I didn’t give my child the time she needed to work through a scary situation and make the best of it. In the end, it all worked out. We talked for a while about the trip back over the bridge, and how we needed to handle the situation. In the end, the trip back across was a whole lot better, and we enjoyed our day at an incredible park. I learned some important lessons about how to help children face their fears that day.
How to Help Children Face Their Fears Before an event
1. Discuss the child’s thoughts before the event.
We are planning a cruise in the near future. After our last cruise, which had no problems, my son has suddenly said he doesn’t want to cruise again. Through multiple discussions, we’ve realized that the muster drill has scared him and he’s afraid of the boat sinking.
Discussing his fear ahead of time is giving us plenty of time to work out what is bothersome about the upcoming adventure. We are working with him now to help him understand how safe cruising is. We are also helping him come up with a game plan for if there is a problem. He’s still not thrilled about the whole idea, but he’s coming around to the idea and starting to get excited. (Good thing, too! We’ve already paid the deposit! :P)
2. Come up with a plan to handle the fear.
If you know you are planning a challenging activity, discuss the activity with your child. Come up with a game plan for handling his or her fear during the event. At the Capilano, once we were across the bridge, we couldn’t leave the park without crossing the bridge again. We had to face that fear a second time.
I’ll admit it. I failed to prepare my girlie for that fact. She was NOT a happy camper when she realized she had to cross the bridge again. We would have had a much better time if I’d helped her talk through a game plan on how to handle crossing the bridge twice. If she’d known how strong the bridge was, or how few people have had problems, she would have been more comfortable. That was all information we could have easily found ahead of time.
3. Start small and build up to the event.
Suspension bridges, rock climbing, and other challenging adventures that you’ll come across while traveling with your kiddos can be scary. However, you can help your children prepare for these challenges by starting small. Before tackling a rock wall at the top of a cruise ship, take your kids to an indoor climbing facility. If you’re going to be crossing a bridge like the Capilano, take them to a natural ropes course and let them feel the instability of the bridge.
One of the biggest things that made making it across the Capilano possible was that we’ve had several years of indoor climbing and ropes course experience. My children have learned to trust the ropes, and that was a major factor in helping my girl across the bridge. I was able to point to the cables and talk about how they were even stronger than all the ropes we’ve used before. That information helped her visibly relax during our first trip across the bridge.
How to help children face their fears during an event
4. Talk through their thoughts.
When a child is expressing fear during an event or adventure, keep them talking. Listen to what is concerning him or her. Don’t just try to put their mind to rest, but listen to exactly what they are saying. Fear is a normal reaction to danger, and a very useful tool in our lives. Learning how to feel, analyze, and respond to fear is an important skill. Once you’ve listened to their fear, guide them though it with leading questions that help them do the analyzing.
Example: My daughter said she was afraid the bridge couldn’t hold our weight. I was able to discuss a sign with her that showed the bridge held several tons of weight when a tree fell on it several years before. Hearing that information that specifically addressed her fear was able to make her more comfortable with the situation.
5. Admit your fears.
It’s ok to say that you’re scared or intimidated as well. When we were on the Capilano bridge, I was not very thrilled, either. I am a huge fan of stable and firm footing! However, I didn’t hide that fact. While we were talking, I told my daughter that I felt fear too, but I was working to handle it just like she was.
When we reached the end, we celebrated our crossing together. We were able to share in both the scary circumstance, and the triumph of living through the challenge. A year later, she celebrated with me when I was able to send her a picture of me crossing a different scary Canadian bridge. We share that bond of fear and triumph, and that only makes our relationship stronger.
6. Never force a child to do something they aren’t comfortable with if there is a way out.
With the Capilano bridge, we had no way out. We were already more than halfway across when we realized just how scared my daughter was, and there wasn’t an option to get back to our parking lot. As parents, we can not anticipate every single thing that our kids might balk at.
However, if there’s a way out, it’s ok to let our children face an obstacle another day. When they know we will listen to them and respect their choice to decline, they will trust us more in the long run.
Facing and conquering a fear has to come from inside a child to truly grow their strength. Life is going to throw scary things their way, and sometimes they will simply have to cope. Sometimes they’ll choose to face the challenge, and that is when they are going to see the most growth and strength. That is the true treasure of facing a fear.
How to Help your Children Grow from Facing their fears after the event
7. Celebrate the successes.
Life is a challenge. It’s hard, and as our kids grow up there are going to be scary moments. When you’re traveling, it may be as simple as crossing a bridge or handling a challenging hike. Five or ten years down the road the scary moment may be getting into the right college or facing a health issue.
Strong, resilient adults are built one challenge and success at a time. If a child knows that they can face a challenge and thrive, they are growing their personal confidence. Walking across a bridge 400 feet in the air may not seem like a big deal to some, but to my little girl it made a huge difference. Several times in the last year she’s said, “If I can do that bridge, I can do this!” When you help children face their fears, the rewards pay off for a lifetime.
Learn more about travel to British Columbia:
– Want to learn more about the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Vancouver? Check out the Vancouver Moon Travel Guide at this link.
More TCHSL post about learning through travel:
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