Fearless parenting with Nioucha Homayoonfar

Born in Belgium before moving to Pittsburgh for her earliest years, eight-year-old Nioucha Homayoonfar was living with her family in Tehran when the 1979 Iranian revolution began. She is the author of Taking Cover: One Girl’s Story of Growing Up During the Iranian Revolution. Read on for Homayoonfar's tips on raising fearless kids.

 

HER FEARLESS KIDS: A daughter, 7½; and a son, 5¾

FEARLESS QUOTE: “One of our jobs as parents is to raise kids to think for themselves and ask questions. By removing your own feelings, you’re allowing your child to form their own minds about the world around them.”

NAT GEO FAMILY: Why is it good for kids to be fearless?
NIOUCHA HOMAYOONFAR:
Being fearless allows kids to take on challenges, explore new opportunities, and develop new skills. It gives them the chance to understand who they are and what they’re capable of doing. Without some fearlessness, they would delay having a grasp on their full potential.

NAT GEO FAMILY: How were you fearless as a child?
HOMAYOONFAR:
I believe there are two kinds of fearlessness: one that gets you in trouble and one that opens up parts of yourself you didn’t know existed. I have certainly experienced both.

When I was a child growing up during the Iranian revolution, I tried to challenge the status quo, but I was cocky and careless, and my actions led me into trouble without changing anything. I lied to my Islam teacher and claimed I wasn’t a Muslim so I’d be spared her class, which I hated. A few years later, I disregarded the rules of Islamic garb and got arrested. These are not fearless actions that bring you positive outcomes, but careless actions that hurt you.

But I also remember the time in seventh grade when I stood up to authority. Back then, teachers in Iran demanded respect and order—no talking back or disobedience. We were all terrified of our teachers and other school authorities. One day a new student joined our class who was Iranian but grew up in Ohio. She spoke Persian with a heavy American accent and had trouble reading and writing. Our history teacher was very anti-Western and pounced on her: asking her to read out loud, interrogating her on lessons, scolding her for not speaking or reading properly. The students were so afraid of being punished that they said nothing. But I couldn’t take it anymore. So the next time the teacher made the girl stand up before the entire class, I shot up from my seat and said: “Leave her alone! Can’t you see she didn’t grow up here? She can’t speak or read like the rest of us!” I was sure I’d be punished for my outspokenness. But to my astonishment, the teacher quietly asked her to return to her seat and called on another student. And it blew over. The girl became a lifelong friend, thanking me for being the only kid who stood up for her.

NAT GEO FAMILY: What advice would you give parents on raising a fearless kid?
HOMAYOONFAR:
Provide children with the tools to face and overcome obstacles. Create the space for them to be brave and courageous. Guide them through their fears by helping them understand its source, without coddling them or making them feel like their fears are baseless.

One of our jobs as parents is to raise kids to think for themselves and ask questions. By removing your own feelings, you’re allowing your child to form their own minds about the world around them.

I also think it’s important to model fearlessness by showing them how you handle your own failures or mistakes. For instance, if you burn cookies, you can either fall apart in front of them, or make a new batch or buy some from the grocery store! Either way, your reaction to the situation will shape your child’s response to fear.

NAT GEO FAMILY: How has that advice helped you raise your own fearless kids?
HOMAYOONFAR:
Sometimes you learn these lessons the hard way! When my son was four years old, he told me a classmate was bullying him. Mama Bear immediately came out: I smothered him with my affection and ranted against the classmate. But when I saw my little boy’s pleasure in having his mother mooning over him, I realized I was doing him a disservice. The next time he came to me with a similar story, I sat him down and said: “Pushing someone is wrong. What can you do if it happens again?” Eventually, he realized he could use his words and tell the kid to stop.

One of my proudest moments as a mother was when my daughter turned down a friend’s request to do something that she felt was wrong. One of her classmates had asked her to spy on one of their friends. After thinking about it, my daughter refused: “Why do I have to do that? I don’t want to spy on our friend, so I’m not going to!” I felt so proud that she was thinking and reflecting on what she was being asked to do and having the courage to say no to a friend because she didn’t feel right about it.