Question: My spouse and I can’t agree about the best way to deal with our school-age son. He’s extremely "cautious" about many situations in life. For example, he doesn’t like scary roller coasters. My husband thinks he should be pushed harder and forced to face his fears. I feel we should give him time to develop confidence at his own pace. What’s your perspective? 


Our first thought is that you and your husband need to get on the same page before attempting to work with your child on this issue. If you don’t, your child will suffer in the long run. This, as far as we’re concerned, is the most important aspect of your problem – far more important than the question of whether or not your son is too "cautious." 

Your child's unique personality

Every child is endowed with a unique personality. It’s critical to take this into account in dealing with a situation of this nature. Some kids are simply biologically wired to be more cautious and careful. This isn’t necessarily a manifestation of cowardice or a sign of inordinate timidity. In some cases it may actually be a mark of prudence and maturity beyond a child’s years. Birth order can affect a child’s temperament as well. 

It’s also important to consider a child’s age and level of development. The fact is that there are a lot of elementary school kids who would not enjoy travelling in a racing boat at break-neck speed or riding on a gigantic "death-drop" roller coaster. The same thing can probably be said of many adults – to a certain extent this is just a matter of personal taste and preference. In any case, your husband needs to understand that your son is still a child, and therefore he thinks and behaves as a child. He can’t be expected to act like one of Dad’s thirty-year-old buddies.

Balance of mom and dad

Bear in mind that God has designed men and women to parent differently. Children need the balance that comes from having parents of both genders. These differences are intended to complement and complete each other. If you understand this, you’ll make a determined effort to avoid getting into arguments about this issue, especially in front of your son. Your spouse should respect your opinion and make allowances for your perspective. You in turn must to learn how to value his contribution to the parenting process.

Among other things, this may mean that you need to step aside and resist the temptation to overprotect your son. Let him bond with his dad and develop masculine interests. Look for opportunities to express confidence in him, affirm him and let him know that you believe he can overcome his fears. Your husband, on the other hand, has to be careful not to push him into activities that make him uncomfortable. The worst possible thing he can do is to shame or embarrass him – this will have a permanent impact on his self-concept and level of confidence. We’d advise your husband to examine his motives. Is he trying to force your son into a mould that doesn’t fit his personality? There’s no reason to compel the boy to engage in activities that Dad enjoys. Instead, both parents should make an effort to get involved with hobbies, sports and pastimes that your son finds interesting and fun. 

Temperamental changes

Finally, remember that your son still has his entire life ahead of him. The process of growing up may entail all kinds of unexpected changes in his temperament. It’s entirely possible for a cautious kid to turn into a thrill-seeking teenager. Hormonal influences, changes in the brain and peer-pressure may transform your son into a bungee-jumping, motorcycle racing 16-year-old. So relax and give him the time and space he needs to develop into the person God created him to be. 

If you’d like to discuss these issues at greater length with a member of our staff, feel free to call Focus on the Family Canada’s counselling department. Our counsellors would be more than happy to serve you in any way they can. They can also provide you with referrals to qualified child and family therapists in your area who can help you sort out and work through parenting conflicts of this nature. You can contact our counselling team Monday through Friday, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time, at 1.800.661.9800.

© 2010 Focus on the Family. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 

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