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Fish, Worms and Tadpoles

They are slimy. They squiggle. They don’t move in ways that our hands or brains predict.

In response, we’re often squeamish. We let ourselves get grossed out. Even though we can change a poopy diaper or wipe our kid’s snot off their upper lip without batting an eye, you put a wet snake in my hands and I can’t help but get cold chills and find myself having to fight back fear, revulsion, and even more visceral reactions like nausea.

I wonder, though, if that type of reaction doesn’t do a disservice to our children?

We pass along many things to our kids. Some are involuntary, like male-pattern-baldness or an offset uvula. Maybe those prove to be an annoyance for them later in life, but there isn’t much we can do about those (at least at this point, gene-editing is becoming less and less science fiction every day!).

However, there are other traits and behaviors we pass along that are more in the realm of voluntary choice. They are a part of us, a part of our personas. So passing them on to our kids is semi-automatic. Some of these we recognize as things we don’t necessarily want to pass on. Some of us don’t like Broccoli or Brussel Sprouts, but that isn’t necessarily a trait we want to pass along to our kids, shaping them to also dislike green-leafy vegetables. Maybe it was our mom or dad who taught us to not like them, but maybe, just maybe, our kids would otherwise like them if we didn’t teach them to hate them as we do.

So, too, when it comes to interactions with nature. Maybe I am terrified of mice or grossed out by snakes or frogs…but is that something I want my sons or daughters to pick up from me? If I let my ‘gross out’ response pass on to my kids, are they less likely to end up being a zoologist or veterinarian or National Park Ranger? Am I burdening them in ways that end up being unfair to them and limiting their future decisions, giving them hurdles?

We want to be who we are, and live our lives according to our own personality and the inherent instincts of our unique mind, body, and soul. We get to be exactly who we are. At the same time, we owe our children sort of a clean slate. Are they afraid of snakes because I am afraid of snakes? Isn’t passing that along to them as bad as passing along other negative behavioral traits like pridefulness or selfishness or our penchant for fibbing?

It isn’t that you need to pretend to love snakes. But it is important to recognize that you can help your kids understand that even though you are afraid of snakes, they don’t have to be. You can help them approach it objectively…”To be honest, snakes scare me a bit, but it’s really all in my head. Just because I am frightened by them doesn’t mean you are. Lots of people love snakes and love handling them. You may try it and decide for yourself.” Basically, the same dialog you might have with them about Brussel Sprouts, “They aren’t my favorite, but lots of people love them and they are very good for your health…and they are nature’s perfect vessel for Balsamic vinegar.”

Whether we like it or not, our children are a mirror reflection of us. And when we see that, when we see our kids do something we find annoying or negative and realize they’re just doing exactly what our behavior taught them to do, we can recognize that we might nip that in the bud. Just because we learned to be selfish from our mom doesn’t mean our kids need to learn that from us.

And so too can it be with snakes, or getting dirty in the garden, or playing sports.

Give them a clean canvas. Your canvas is already full of your baggage, but theirs can be clean. Let them write their own story rather than hitting the starting blocks carrying your phobias, dislikes, and negative experiences. And kids are smart enough that you can be open with them about that, but give them the blessing and permission to be different from you should they so choose. They can be brave where you are not. They can like things that you find gross.

They’re the ones who write their own story. Let them decide the person they’ll be. And you can continue to hate broccoli and snakes. Let your kids choose for themselves.

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