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My friend’s daughters and her went to the beach several weeks ago. They were having a blast playing in the freezing cold water as I tiptoed around the waves, trying to keep my feet from becoming frost bitten. Next to us in the water was a mother with her daughter who was no more than 18 months old. This woman was holding her frightened little girl hostage in the ocean as the bitter cold waves crashed into her and rushed back with a fierce undertow. The poor child was screaming and crying, begging to be rescued from the torture. Her mother thought this was amusing. She laughed at her baby’s fear and grinned at everyone around her. I was disgusted and horrified. I finally told the mother that I didn’t find the situation at all funny. I have no idea if my words had any impact. By then, my own kids had finally remembered they had nerve endings and were shivering uncontrollably, begging for the warmth of their dry towels and warm sweatshirts. We left the water’s edge and the sickening site of mother traumatizing baby.
Did this mother realize she was probably investing her daughter with an irrational fear of the ocean? I doubt it.
When I see a parent forcing a child to tolerate something potentially fear inducing, it curdles my blood. This child was traumatized and her mother was not helping her escape the offensive waves. She was the cause of her child’s trauma. Where is the trust in this relationship? Will this little girl grow up believing that her mother will always be there for her or resent her mom for belittling her sensitivities? I think the latter.
I dread thinking about all the ways this child will, in turn, torture her mother without realizing why. Will she try drugs or alcohol at an early age? Will she indulge in promiscuous sexual behavior at an inappropriate time? Will she be so anesthetized to her self-worth that she drives her first car into a wall at 18? Could be.
In my opinion, this mother is treating her baby with disrespect at the most basic level. Instinctual fear is not something we should laugh at our toddler for having, thereby teaching her that her feelings and natural fear of big looming ice cold waves or any other potentially frightening fact of life is dismissed as meaningless. To this child, Mom is saying her whole existence is disdained, her feelings don’t matter and her mother is not there to protect her but to throw her into the pits of hell for her own amusement.
I’ve seen this happen at amusement parks, playgrounds and schools. No matter what your child is afraid of, respect his fear, acknowledge his trepidation of the unknown and understand that with compassion and tolerance, he will overcome these basic, natural fears with time and maturity. Some children are more sensitive than others. You might have a child who embraces adventure and roller coasters with passion or a child who is horrified by a small slide at the park. This is your baby. No matter what you think they should be feeling, they have their own wiring. They’re going to move at their own internal pace. Let’s respect and honor that pace which in turn shows our child that we respect and honor him. This sets a healthy foundation for self-esteem and self-respect, which is so very important for our children to function at their best in the world.

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