”My oldest child is 4 years old and I’ve noticed that he really struggles when trying something new that challenges him. I see it as a ‘fear of failure,’ which I’m shocked that he’s dealing with at such a young age. Is this a form of pride at its core?”
Rachel asks an important and insightful question. Pride is a challenging and subtle topic to address in our children and in ourselves. On the one hand, some forms of pride are easy to spot. When someone stands up, beats his chest and screams “I am the greatest,” pride is easy to identify. However, fear is also a form of pride, albeit a subtle one. At its root, pride believes—whether in thoughts or actions—that my way is better for me than God’s way. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child” (Proverbs 22:15). The New Testament confirms this in passages like Ephesians 2:1-3 and Galatians 5:19-21. So your children begin life believing that they have a better way to live than God’s way. One of the ways that this expresses itself is through fear. Fear and pride are tightly connected. For example in the case that Rachel mentions with her son, we see that he is afraid of trying something new when it is difficult. While not all children have this struggle, it is important to connect a biblical perspective to this expression of fear.
When a mom encourages her son to do something new and he holds back, saying he is afraid, he is essentially saying that Mom’s word is not enough to overcome his own belief that he should not do this new activity. Ephesians 6:1-3 teaches that children should obey their parents. This calls for wisdom and sensitivity on the part of the parent.
For example, you tell your four-year-old son, Jason, that his Uncle Bill just gave him a Fisher-Price Give Me 5 Sports Station. As a matter of fact his uncle is setting up the Sports Station right now. You urge Jason to go out and start playing basketball with Uncle Bill on the cool new toy. Jason kind of hangs back and says he doesn’t want to go and play. He doesn’t like basketball and is afraid he’ll miss the basket. You smile and reassure Jason that things will be fine. You say that Uncle Bill will help him shoot and that dad and his brother will be home soon, and you will have a great time. Jason still says that no, he is afraid and does not want to go and play outside. He says he just wants to ride his Big Wheel trike in the basement. The more you try to convince Jason, the more fearful he becomes.
What do you do?
Here are a couple of things to think about. First of all, four-year-old children must not be in charge of their world. In this situation, Jason should not be merely urged to go and play; he must be directed to do so. Then, obedience to God would require Jason to obey and trust his mom’s instruction to go outside and play. Jason’s mom may not have meant to offer Jason a choice, but if she simply urged him, then she left him with the option to decide to go outside—or not. This is generally not a good idea, either for a four-year-old or for his mom. You see, your children don’t naturally love God. In fact, they naturally distrust God and fear obedience to him. Teaching biblical obedience attacks these natural fears and the resulting self-centeredness. Teaching Jason that obedience means that he is to do exactly what he is asked to do, right away, with a willing attitude is a huge step in helping him to overcome fear. Biblical obedience is to be an expression of love to God. If Jason loves God first and foremost, he will drive out the dominating power of fear in his life. Fear is the soil that the enemy of our souls uses to grow doubts about serving God. But as 1 John 4 tells us, love drives out fear.
Jason’s mom should direct Jason to go outside to see the cool gift that his uncle has given him. It is not Jason’s choice, but his mom’s. Jason is to learn to obey his mom as he is to obey the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossians 3:20). As he is lovingly taught this by his parents, he will learn that loving God is more important than being controlled by his natural fears. Fear brings doubt and worry. Loving God in exact, quick, and willing obedience will indeed cast out fear. Pride and fear often go hand in hand. Pride focuses on what I want. Thus, I may become fearful if I cannot have what I want. Being dominated by fear, even fear of failure, means that a child’s focus is not on loving God and others, but on serving his own fears.
So, yes, I think Rachel’s insight is spot-on. Thanks, Rachel, for a great comment!