Opinion Madonna King: Many of us play it safe. Post-pandemic, we may need to rethink that

Madonna King: Many of us play it safe. Post-pandemic, we may need to rethink that

Madonna King
Role-modelling ‘having a go’ might serve as a partial antidote to the fear we are now seeing in our children, writes Madonna King. Photo: TND
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What would you do if you didn’t fear failure?

If you knew, for sure, the parachute would open, would you take to the skies and feel the thrill of a free fall?

Or if you were certain that no one would laugh, would you learn to play the guitar and join a band?

Few people are fearless. Most of us have something that stops us doing everything we want.

Travelling. Running a marathon. Learning to sing. Joining a book club. Speaking at our son’s wedding. Asking someone on a date. Redrawing the mortgage and throwing it at the stockmarket. Learning to paint.

And for the most part, we live out our lives enjoying those activities we know we can do, and that provide us equal bouts of enjoyment and comfort.

And yes, there will always be thrillseekers, and teens especially (and particularly boys) will seek adventure and take risk as part of their journey to adulthood.

But many of us spend much of our time playing it safe. Being risk averse.

Post-pandemic, we might need to rethink that.

Time to catch up

We’ve got some catching up to do to make up for the holidays put off, the wedding anniversaries postponed, and honeymoons cancelled.

The consequence of that – the weeks and months of lockdown, along with two years of uncertainty – has provided a COVID-19 tail we need to clip.

And role modelling ‘having a go’ might serve as a partial antidote to the fear we are now seeing in our children.

Some three-year-olds, particularly in Victoria, have seen few full faces during the past two years.

They don’t remember the welcome a smile can bring, or the sparkle a maskless laugh can deliver.

Kindergarten teachers nationwide are seeing a new shyness; toddlers spending time with toys and not each other, without the skills to socialise in the way their older brothers and sisters learnt the value of sharing.

Parents have found a new clinginess in their little ones; they don’t want to venture far, because they haven’t done it before.

At primary school, too, teachers are reporting students who are unable to look at each other in the eye.

Are they fearing rejection from their peers? Are they not sure what to say? Or are they unable to find the words that could spark a friendship for years?

Of course this is not just fear; it’s a whole bundle of complex stuff.

Pluck up some courage

But putting ourselves out there, whether it’s starting a conversation in primary school or joining a public speaking group, requires a touch of courage.

And each time we find ourselves competent at something, it provides a shot of confidence. Our children need that, now more than ever.

In high school, certainly, fear is playing a real part in stopping many of our teenagers from grabbing life and squeezing every bit of enjoyment out of it.

The lockdown, cancelled formals, truncated friendships, and months of uncertainty has created a new level of anxiety not previously seen.

And that was on the back of record levels, before this pandemic became daily headlines.

School refusal is just one of the consequences. Students are so scared that they are simply refusing to return to school.

They don’t know what to say to their friends, or how to act.

They’ve learnt to be by themselves, with all the loneliness it brings, and they’ve become risk averse to opening up.

‘I don’t want to go. I haven’t been for ages, so why do I have to go now?’

High anxiety

It’s heartbreaking. One Victorian principal says while the school opened recently for senior students, it closed two days later.

“The anxiety the students were experiencing; it defeated the purpose of being here.’’

In some Sydney schools, one in five families have decided – at least at this point – to keep their final-year students home.

One principal puts that down to a fear of contracting COVID-19, on the eve of final exams.

In Brisbane, a group of students sat around a school lunch table last week listing all those activities that had been cancelled – not through COVID-19 in their state – but through the uncertainty delivered by this pandemic.

In Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane and everywhere else in our nation, this is a new phenomenon. And it’s not COVID-19; it’s a window into the aftermath of this virus.

Ask a school psychologist how it will pan out, and they say they don’t have a crystal ball.

None of us have seen this before. But wouldn’t it be good, one psychologist mused, if our children felt less fear?

She might be onto something – and it might start with us – their parents.

So what would you do if you didn’t fear failure?