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No Fear

July 15, 2007

Children have remarkable coping skills when they face obstacles, skills that we could learn a lot from ...

 

"I can do it," my four-year-old daughter chants over and over in a whisper. It reminds me of The Little Engine That Could.

 

At first, I think she's talking to me, and then I realize that she's talking to herself, giving herself a pep talk. It's the same kind of internal pep talk that adults give themselves, but the difference is that we do it silently so as not to expose our fear or weakness.

 

Children have no such fear of being labeled as weak. They do what feels natural, what feels right.

 

At issue on this day – a rubber shark on the bottom of the shallow end of the pool. It's in about two feet of water. In order to reach, it she must hold her breadth, close her eyes, and put her head under water. This is a recently learned skill that she acquired in swim lessons. Going under water inspires a significant amount of anxiety and requires an equally significant amount of bravery for a young child. I remember it well, except for in my experience, it was my father holding my head under water telling me to cut out the wimpy crap and learn how to swim or else.

 

"I can do it, I can do it, I can do it," she says with urgency. But she doesn't do it. Instead, she skims the surface of the pool gathering stray leaves – clearly a delay tactic if I ever saw one.

 

"Of course you can do it!" I respond excitedly playing the role of the nurturing, supportive parent, a very different strategy from my father's. She shoots me an annoyed look. Clearly, her words are not meant for my ears. She wants to do this one on her own with no cheerleading from me.

 

Suddenly, without warning, it's go-time. She leaps like a dolphin plunging into fifty feet of water. Her little hands reach frantically for the rubber shark, feeling the bottom of the pool like a blind person. Finally, she grabs it and shoots to the surface. Triumphantly she holds it above her head with one arm as she wipes the water out of her scrunched up eyes with her other hand.

 

"I knew you could do it," I scream too enthusiastically, giving her a pat on the back as she chokes up a mouthful of water. When she is done choking, she smiles with her entire face. It's as if she's just won an Olympic medal for her efforts.

 

"Let's do it again," she yells giving me a high-five with her free hand as she still holds the shark in the air.

 

"Let's," I say.

 

But before the words are out of my mouth I hear it again ... "I can do it, I can do it, I can do it." 

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