"My Mom Called Me a B****."
To the mom who called her fourth-grade daughter a "bitch":
I'm not a parent, so I don't think I can legally offer parenting advice. However, I'm confident that calling your fourth-grade daughter a "bitch" because she's afraid of heights falls into the "poor parenting" category. I don't know you and I doubt you will ever read this story of how your daughter grappled with her fear, but hopefully someone else will read it and learn from your poor judgment.
Today, your daughter showed tremendous courage as she faced the Giant Swing activity here at camp. If you're unfamiliar with the swing, you climb into a harness, are hoisted upwards of 60 feet into the tree canopy, and then pull a cable that sends you into free-fall and activates the swing. It's amazing, exhilarating, and terrifying all at the same time, but the real value of the activity is in its function as a tool to help people gain confidence in facing their fears.
I asked your daughter how she was feeling as I helped her into the harness. Like every other awkward elementary school student with a fear of heights, she talked a million miles per hour about how she was going to a) die, b) pee her pants, and/or c) fart (which she then did and then laughingly announced to the amusement of her entire class). When I reassured her it was okay to be nervous and that today was all about going two steps further than her comfort zone, she quickly shot back that she had to go to the top. I praised her determination, but before I could say anything else, she continued:
""My mom said that if I don't make it to the top, then I'm a...uh...well, she said a bad word...the b-word..." She leaned closer, unsure if she should say it out loud to an adult, and then whispered "a bitch."
It takes a lot for get me upset, but in that moment, a hot anger coursed through my chest. Again, I'm not a parent, but every paternal fiber in my body screamed that this is not how parenting should go. A child who is afraid of heights should not also have to fear her mother's disapproval should she be unable to go to the top of a giant swing that even adults have difficulty handling.
In the moment, all I could do was gently reassure your daughter that no matter how high up the swing she went today, I was proud of her for facing her fear and that her friends, teachers, and I were going to be cheering her on the whole time.
She climbed onto the platform and stood at the foot of the ladder, then shakily put one foot after the other onto the first rungs. Five feet up, she looked up toward the trees, cursed under her breath, glanced over at her teachers, and then asked if she could use the bathroom. I unharnessed her, pointed her and her teacher toward the bathroom, and told her we'd get her up on the ladder as soon as she got back.
To be honest, I didn't think your daughter would get back into the harness. She let all her friends go first before falling last in line. "This is it, I'm going to the top. I talked myself up in the bathroom and I have to do it," she said nervously as I re-harnesed her.
"I know you can do it," I reminded her. "You've already faced your fear just by getting back into this harness. I'm super proud of you."
With a newfound determination, she again climbed the ladder. She sat suspended 15 feet above ground for a minute before giving us permission to pull her up.
Half way up, she started to cry.
"I can't do this!" she cried, her bright blue eyes streaming with tears.
"You've got this, Lizzy! You're about half-way up."
"I can't! I want to come down!"
"All you have to do, Lizzy, is pull that little red cord. You'll get a nice little swing. You're 100% safe, I promise. You're doing so good!" I said from below.
Her eyes darted from me to the red cord, then up at the tree before she closed her eyes and sat silently. She sniffled and wiped away a renegade tear with one hand while the other desperately grasped her harness.
She sat like that for another minute before whimpering, "I can't."
I gave her two more chances before we lowered her to the ground. As I unharnessed her, a dark look of defeat covered her face.
"You did so good up there," I said.
She stared at the ground and mumbled, "But I didn't swing."
"That's okay! You faced your fear! You got in the harness, twice! You climbed the ladder! You were thirty feet up in the air! I'm so proud of you!" Her teacher came up and offered her encouragement as well.
At that moment, I could see an internal battle raging inside of her – a cage match between the belief that she faced her fears and tried her best, and the belief that she was a failure; our positive, uplifting affirmation versus your negative, manipulative comment.
And in the end, as hard as we tried, your words won.
"I didn't make it to the top, though." She stared at me, and then back to the floor. "I wasted everyone's time. I'm sorry." Her shoulders shook as another tear dropped from her chin. She stepped away, grabbed her things, and joined her classmates who tried to comfort her as they walked down the hill.
Although she may not have believed it, your daughter is one of the bravest girls I've ever seen on the Giant Swing. The definition of courage is "the ability to do something that frightens one." Showing courage, isn't measured by how high up on a tree swing one can go, but one's determination to act on something that frightens them. In that respect, your daughter showed more courage today than the kids who have no problem with heights. Unfortunately, she couldn't recognize that on account of the careless words you spoke to her.
From the 20 minutes that I spent with her today, your daughter is brave, she is strong, she is funny, and she is also terribly awkward in the way that all elementary school children usually are. She didn't make it to the top of the swing, but she tried her hardest and went way farther than she thought she could. She's not a "bitch" for having a fear of heights, and I pray that in the future, as she grows up and faces scarier things in life than a Giant Swing, you will find it in yourself to encourage, uplift, and challenge her in ways that bring life, growth, and maturity rather than fear, manipulation, and disappointment.
The Giant Swing Guy.