A few years ago I realized that my thoughts and emotions largely influence my experience of life in more ways than can be completely described. They touch my children, whether I voice them or not. They contribute to my actions, my inaction, and the ways I guide the kids in life. Quite literally, thoughts and emotions precede all action. When it comes to parenting, the attention we give to fear and survival is very important and it’s likely that this topic is in the back of our minds all of the time.
Solo parenting really brought to light the opportunity for me to start thinking more consciously about how I would handle safety and emergencies. Being on my own with three children age six and under felt intense. Fear was present and although I wanted to parent naturally, allowing my children the space to grow and explore on their own at time, I noticed that very often I would lead with fear. For me, part of the antidote to fear is through what I call survival thinking.
There’s a subtle yet very important difference between fear-steeped, doomsday thinking and survival thinking. Whereas fear steeped thinking often leads to a reactive visualization or projection of a result that is negative, survival thinking allows us to use the power of mental rehearsal to really consider how we would handle certain situations so that we can approach them with as much ease as possible. It’s also about how we feel when we are thinking through particular situations.
For example, if I feel afraid when I think of climbing down a very tall spiral staircase like the one pictured, it is possible that the fear could stop me from being able to do it safely. Survival thinking allows me to face uncomfortable emotions (even those related to situations like a child crying or falling down, paying bills, or conflict), notice how I feel, choose to use my mind and senses to visualize a well thought out result, and actually influence a result that is grounded in personal power instead of the perception of inferiority.
I use the word “inferiority” because fear really points to feeling small, like we have no power to affect a situation and that’s how we may feel at the time so there’s nothing inherently wrong with fear. Fear serves a valuable purpose. We can meet fear with love and change our approach to any situation in our lives or parenting experience through using all of our faculties to create an end result we can live with.
Steps to Survival Thinking
- Take note of the situations where you feel uncomfortable emotion, such as fear or frustration. It is likely that you don’t feel like you have options for positively influencing such situations. You do, from the inside out through survival thinking. You can simply notice as you go about your day or you can sit down and write some scenarios that come to mind.Some examples may be a fear of your child falling out of the window in an upstairs bedroom (so important to think through, I learned this one the hard way and I am grateful my son is still alive to tell the story), an uncomfortable sensation when your partner is driving faster than you would like, or the thought of having to get everyone out of the house in a fire. Whatever comes up for you is valid and worthy of thinking through so be honest with yourself. Also, this isn’t a one time process; it’s an alternative approach to life so feel free to integrate it into your parenting experience to meet fear in a new way.
- As you think of the said situations, pick one to focus on. Notice how your body feels, bring your attention to your breath, and allow your mind to play out whatever scenario you fear. Now, this might sound silly. Why would you let your mind run wild in this way? Mainly, to see what’s there. It’s kind of difficult to change the way we think and project into the future unless we see it for what it is. Just watch it like a movie.You can also do this in the moment, or notice when you already do. A common phrase said to children is “be careful”. What are you thinking or seeing in your mind as you say such a statement? Are you seeing them fall or falter? Survival thinking helps you turn this around so you project a different scenario, thus supporting what you want with your mind. This isn’t some woo-woo exercise either; it’s grounded in reality although we may need to actually learn skills to navigate certain situations. Such as, learning to swim if we intend to save our child if he’s about to drown – it’s possible you could do it if you visualize it enough, but I would certainly recommend practicing with your body, too!
- Now that you see what you don’t want to have happen, think about what you would like the result to be in a given situation. If you are concerned about your child falling out of the window, visualize the windows safely latched and your son being aware of his body so he would notice if he was too close to the edge. If you are concerned about getting out of the house in a fire, visualize yourself low to the ground grabbing each one and slithering down the halls or stairs while you get out to safety. Notice in your vision if your baby/toddler carrier near the bed because that would be handy for such an emergency. Allow yourself to see all that would be necessary to maintain survival or well being in the said situation. Let your imagination go and see yourself handling the situation with ease.
Survival thinking is not necessarily an instant fix for fear or situations that we would rather not experience. It is another way to approach that which we do not want to face so we can consciously choose how we respond and becomes more powerful with in-the-moment practice. In other words, to get the most benefit – take it into your life! I hope it proves helpful for you and yours.