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Helping Kids Accept Help & Be Vulnerable

My favorite vulnerable and lovable character is Shrek. Not only was this Pixar movie mega-hit an instant family favorite, but the big green, oh-so-grumpy, adorable character taught us a lot about the importance of being vulnerable. In the 2001 movie Shrek, the relatable main character discovered the importance of being vulnerable throughout his journey to save Prince Fiona. Initially, Shrek, an ogre, values his solitude and independence. However, as he navigates challenges and confronts his vulnerabilities, he forms unlikely friendships with Donkey and Princess Fiona. Through their support, Shrek learns that vulnerability isn't a weakness but a pathway to connection and growth. He discovers the transformative power of authentic relationships, realizing that true strength comes from vulnerability and interdependence.

Admitting we are struggling and might need guidance takes real courage. As adults, we easily forget that vulnerability has no age limits. Vulnerability involves the willingness to risk rejection, hurt, or disappointment. Depending on their age and life experience, most children and teenagers are not developmentally ready to identify or verbalize where they are struggling. Being vulnerable requires a certain emotional maturity, courage, and strength. This is easy to forget as a parent when you are dealing with an unmotivated teenager or maybe a sassy preteen girl. 

When I am working with parents or teachers who are knee-deep in big snarky behaviors, I often hear comments like “All they need to do is ask, they know I am here to help, but I want them to advocate for themselves.” Or maybe the parent is exhausted from dealing with their child’s lagging executive functioning skills.  I sometimes hear comments like “My child is so stubborn they won't let me help them do anything.” During the emotional roller coaster of parenting, it is important to remember that asking for help or knowing how to identify stress is a learned behavior. It takes a certain level of maturity and courage to admit you are struggling and need guidance. 

The good news is most children have an amazing support system in their lives. However, they may not have the emotional IQ to know how to verbalize the stress they may be experiencing. If we want our children, especially our teenagers, to learn vulnerability and advocacy skills, sometimes we need to slow down and reflect on our own behaviors. Are we modeling vulnerability? How easy is it to admit when you are struggling? We can’t control someone else, but we can control ourselves. Here are a few questions to ask ourselves when we are evaluating our own willingness to be vulnerable.

1. Am I comfortable expressing my emotions, including both positive and negative feelings, to others?

2. Do I willingly share my personal experiences, thoughts, and fears with trusted individuals?

3. How do I respond to criticism or feedback from others? Am I open to constructive criticism, or do I become defensive?

4. Do I actively seek out opportunities to connect with others on a deeper emotional level?

5. Am I willing to take risks and be authentic in my interactions, even if it means potentially experiencing rejection or disappointment?

6. How do I handle situations where I feel exposed or out of my comfort zone?

7. Do I prioritize building trust and closeness in my relationships, even if it requires being vulnerable?

8. How do I cope with uncertainty and ambiguity in my life? Am I open to embracing the unknown?

9. Do I view vulnerability as a strength and an essential component of meaningful connections and personal growth?

10. When was the last time my child saw me being vulnerable?

Taking time to reflect on a few of these questions can provide insights into your own willingness to be vulnerable and open in your relationships and interactions with others. Modeling these important skills for your children will help them build self-awareness, and most importantly, help them to better understand the strong support system they already have in their own life……. just like Shrek recognized the same thing among his dedicated friends, Donkey and Princess Fiona.

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