Since I’m known for trying new experiences all the time and have an adventurous spirit, many people are surprised to find that my children are both very cautious kids. Luke is physically cautious. He does not jump off anything higher than a chair, and he never once ran into the street without looking both ways. I sometimes joke that he has a future as a risk management consultant. Leah is more daring on the playground and loves gymnastics, but she is very cautious in social situations. She still suffers from separation anxiety and is shy when in a group setting. I never have to worry about her talking to strangers. She still won’t talk to certain members of our extended family.
So, how do I get my overly cautious kids to try some of my wacky ideas for new experiences?
1. Prepare: I let the kids know what I have planned. I try to give them as much information as I have, which sometimes is not very much. We talk about what the experience might entail and predict how much we’ll like it. Just talking about it sometimes allays fears that my children might harbor.
2. Honor Their Feelings Sometimes my children get upset about things I think are pretty ridiculous. When we tried to Ding Dong Ditch our friends, Leah was so nervous she cried. I thought that was a complete overreaction to a fun activity, and I made the mistake of pushing her feelings aside. She really did not enjoy the activity at all. I learned that if I get to the bottom of why my kids feel a certain way, the activity is more enjoyable for them. When my kids were nervous about putting pennies on a railroad track, I explained that we would stand at least 20 or 30 feet away from the track as soon as we saw a train in the distance. I showed them exactly where we would stand by walking with them to our “safe spot”. The kids felt more comfortable and they wound up having a blast.
3. Ask them to Expand Their Comfort Zone I realized when my children were young that asking them to go outside their comfort zone didn’t work. No one really wants to go outside of their comfort zone. It isn’t fun and is sometimes downright scary. So, I prefer the term “expanding one’s comfort zone” when we try new experiences. Every time we try something new makes our comfort zone just a little bigger, even if it is as simple as visiting a new museum or eating a new food.
4. Ask for Feedback When we are done with a new experience, I always ask the kids for feedback. I’m careful to phrase my question carefully. Asking, “What did you think about that experience?” allows a child to form his or her own opinion free of judgment. Saying, “Wow! That was fun! Did you like it?” is gives the child an easy way to say “yes” and end the conversation. It is also a loaded question. To a child, “Yes,” might seem like the right answer, and “No,” might seem like an unwanted answer. When I ask for feedback, I tend to get responses I didn’t expect. For example, when we recently went to an aquarium, I learned that my kids didn’t like how dark the aquarium was but they loved the jellyfish. Since they were very scared of jellyfish when we went to the shore this summer, I was so proud that they learned to like a living creature they once feared.
5. Praise them (judiciously) for trying something new I made sure I let the kids know I was happy that they put their fears aside when they looked at the jellyfish swimming peacefully in their tank. I try to keep the praise simple and specific. I like to let the new experience speak for itself. Kids, like adults, will feel a sense of accomplishment when they try something they have never tried before. I want them to develop an intrinsic sense of pride for expanding their comfort zones. A small amount of genuine praise goes a much longer way than effusive praise that is less than sincere.
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