Scaling the tallest trees, making new friends, tasting new foods, participating in party games, all those experiences can be so rewarding.
Yet, many children are naturally more reserved and sometimes fearful when faced with new experiences. To motivate children, parents sometimes will say things like “come on, just do it!” or tease a little “are you a scardy cat?” or ask loaded questions like “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you want to have fun?”
The problem? Such remarks don’t motivate or encourage, and can make children feel more insecure, more reserved and unwilling to try new things.
On the other hand, providing positive motivation, support and encouragement can really help children feel adventurous, confident and ready to take on new challenges. Here are twelve ideas to do just that:
Step back and let children explore. Keep safety in mind but allow your child the space and time to move at their own pace. What seems simple and easy to us may actually turn out to be quite challenging at first. Without feeling rushed or pushed, children better focus inwards and learn, explore and discover at their own pace.
Avoid giving directions like “go here” , “step there” or evaluations like saying “good job” or “perfect” as your child is trying something new. Directions and evaluations in the middle of something new can undermine the child’s own explorations and could actually discourage children from trying something the next time around.
Instead of praise and evaluations, try to focus on questions or observations that build inner confidence such as “did you see how you did that?” or “how was that?” and “That looked tricky, you didn’t give up, way to go!” My middle child loves showing off new skills, it works really well for us if I can let him know I am paying attention by making observations like “that tree is really tall!” or “I see you up there!”
Discover and respect the things that your child is interested in. They may be totally different than your own interests/taste but that gives you a chance to learn something new too. For instance, toddlers sure love some interesting food combinations. My daughter’s current favorite is fish with yogurt, broccoli and pickles – where I would not really want to eat that (would you?), it’s her taste so I’ll respect it and gladly let her keep exploring those new flavor combinations.
Avoid pointing out the place of failure, for example, if your child falls at the playground and you know why, instead of saying “well, you didn’t hold on to that so you slipped and fell” or “you should have…” Instead, encourage your child to figure out their own mistakes or to try again. For some children, stepping back and letting them decide works well. For others, some gentle questions like“would you like to try that again?” or “what do you think about a do over?” can be helpful.
Model some positive affirmations such as “I can try and try again!”, and “I can do it.” This can be particularly good for a child that is teetering between confident and scared about an upcoming event or activity.
Don’t be afraid to point out your own failures or times where you have had to try something over again. It’s great for children to realize we are not as faultless as they may believe us to be!
Recall previous experiences that seemed scary that turned out alright in the end, like learning to ride a bike and tell a story about it. “Remember when you were just learning to ride your bike? It was so wobbly, remember, you didn’t want me to let go? Then we played those racing games, and now you can ride on your own?” These stories can help children recall overcoming challenges and ultimately feel more confident.
Take the time to try new things together, it can be trying new foods, visiting a new park or new town, learning a new game, whatever it may be take the time to fully embrace the moment and then reflect on the experience to create memories together.
If there is one thing I find gives a real boost in confidence is to follow your child’s lead. So often children may need just a time to observe, or ask questions, or they are simply not ready yet to undertake an activity or challenge. Trust that when they are ready, they will engage in the activity if they are really interested.
When my oldest was just four years old, we went to a swim class, he sat by the edge of the pool four weeks in a row, and simply did not want to get in. I confess I was going a bit batty thinking of the cost and the time spent going each week for “nothing”. Week 5? He jumped in for half the class. Week 6? He was confidently paddling, jumping, kicking, diving along with everyone else. So what if his pace was a little different? At age 6 he would probably prefer being in the water than anywhere else!
Finally, try to remember that your child may not excel in the same activities that you did or love the same foods or have the same social disposition. They may feel upset when they fail, they may need lots of extra hugs and cuddles. Try to love those differences, embrace those opportunities and most of all support your child’s interests as they grow and discover!
Our newest adventure is Judo classes! What about your children, what are they trying out, working on and discovering? Tell me in the comments, I’d love to know!
Peace & Be Well,
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