Thursday, July 22, 2010

You won't know until you try....

Some children are natural born risk takers. They seem to start climbing before they crawl, they have no fear of heights, they are happiest when they are pushing themselves to the limit and trying something new. Some children are more conservative by nature. They like to watch before they join in, they are happiest when they are in their comfort zone, they seem to have been born aware of what is "safe" and are quite content staying inside that boundary. Of course most children are a combination of the two: no fear of soccer balls flying at their heads when they play goalie, but unable to sleep alone in a dark room; happy to climb to the top of the tree, but terrified of water; the first one to hold a snake, but reduced to tears when a dog is in the room.

As parents we support our children's interests, provide them with new experiences, and expose them to the broadest possible slice of the world. We need to know our child so that we can take into consideration their comfort level in different situations or when experiencing something new. We also need to respect their decisions regarding their level of involvement in each situation or willingness to try something new.

Have you ever pushed your child to try something? "You won't know until you try." "You'll feel so good about yourself once you've done this." Have you crossed the line from support and encouragement to threatening and demanding? "We are not going home until you...." Or manipulating and bribing, "I'll buy you ice cream if you..."

I have given this a lot of thought because I am not a risk taker. I do not enjoy heights, steep slopes, going fast, feeling out of control, or slimy foods. In my life I have done a lot of things while trying to hold back the tears or hide the panic I was feeling inside. Many times I have done things because I didn't feel that saying "no" was an option. Upon reflection I've realized that doing things others pushed me to do because it would supposedly make me feel proud of myself, or more capable or successful, did not leave me with those feelings. In fact, I was left feeling manipulated, angry at myself, hurt, sad and alone. Not one of the things I did because someone pushed me had a lasting positive impact upon my life. Learning to quiet my own inner wisdom that was telling me what to do, or not do, and listen to someone else's louder, stronger, more powerful voice has not serve me well as as an adult, in relationships or in the workplace.

I am not less of a person because I will happily wait by the stream while you scale the steep climb to the top of the mountain. My life is not any less wonderful because I choose cross country skiing over downhill. My diet is not less fulfilling because I choose to be a vegetarian while you eat oysters and lobster. My appreciation and affection for horses is not inferior because I prefer grooming them to riding. Listening to my inner wisdom I am guided to things that I enjoy. Following my own path leads me deeper in my understanding of who I am and where my passions lie. And I will not be missing out if I never sky dive, bungee jump or eat fugu (puffer fish.)

As parents we need to respect our children's comfort zones. We need to support them when they want to take a risk or try something new. This involves following their lead, letting them tell us how far they want to go and what kind of assistance they want. We can provide them with safe environments to test their limits without ever pushing for them to go farther and do more. Trust your child. When they say that something is too hard, too high or too uncomfortable respect that. If they are willing, discuss with them why they want to stop. Provide them with options for making things safe or more comfortable. Give them empowering information. But do not push them, do not try to coax or manipulate your child. Ask yourself why it is important to you that your child does something. Give your child the freedom to listen to their inner wisdom, to follow their own path, to become the person they are. If they really want to do something they will. If they do it on their own terms, in their own way, at their own pace they will feel capable and strong and successful.


  1. ~~Ask yourself why it is important to you that your child does something.~~

    I think that is really worth repeating! And even in a situation where the child seems to get something "good" out of being pushed, there is that trade-off that they had something taken from them and that is the ability to do it in their own time, for their own reasons.

  2. i too would rather sit by the side and watch others do the daring stuff - i enjoy the watching and cheering and supporting that comes w/ this.

    sadly at times i let that outside cr*p mess w/ my head and i do push the kids to try stuff - especially my youngest and food - i really am trying to back off forcing the food trying on him - out comes every awful voice from my own childhood days of not wanting to be adventurous with my food and out of my mouth comes, well, NOT the mom i need and want and feel called to be . UGH!

    thanks for the reminder and support to listen and love as each are created :)

  3. Hi!

    I just found your blog via The Parental Intelligence Newsletter.

    We've kind of come up with a philosophy over this. If our child is afraid and uninterested in something, we don't push it...unless the fear is detrimental to our lives and his life. There's a difference between pushing a child to go on a roller coaster, and coaxing/pushing them to go outside when he has a fear of wasps. I mean not wanting to go outside to a wasp infested area is one thing, but not wanting to go outside because there MIGHT be a wasp...that's a whole other story.

    We also push our child when he's afraid of something, but WANTS to do it.

    We went to Disney World, and he was very interested in going on the water slide. He kept climbing up the stairs,sitting on the slide, and then coming down the stairs again. I suggested we try it on another day. But he kept wanting go on. Finally, he sat down on the slide again, and before he could get husband pushed him down the slide. He ended up LOVING it, and is a big fan of water slides now.

    I am definitely against being pushy and controlling...and forcing kids to do things they don't want to do (and that are not necessary). But I do think in some instances it doesn't hurt to coax and encourage, and even push...a little. I think it all depends on the reasoning behind why a child is being pushed to do something. Is it for the child's sake? Is it to make life easier on the family? Or is it simply a way for the parent's to show they're boss and/or prove to themselves that they don't have a wimp for a child. If it's the latter...well, that's sad.

  4. :) Dina,
    I think it is important to know your child and the kind of support they feel comfortable with. Some children appreciate a push, for some it will degrade their trust in their parents in the future.

    I had a daughter who was stung by a wasp at a soccer game. She didn't want to go outside. When we pushed it didn't help, but made her feel more panicky. What helped was supporting her by researching what attracts wasps and what repels them. We found clothes that helped her feel safe and made sure they were available. Fall turned into winter and bugs were no longer an issue. The next spring her fear returned. She continued to come up w/ creative solutions and gradually became comfortable outside. A year later spring came again and her fear returned once again, but she found ways to cope with it much more quickly. Through it all we talked a lot about her fear and she would discuss it from a logical rational place inside, which helped her cope when she went outside. If we had pushed her to go outside she might have hidden her fear from us even though it was still very real to her, which would not have helped her actually get past the fear.

    The same is true for riding a bike. All three of my girls know how to ride a bike. They learned in their own time without pushing on our part. They had different levels of fear and different levels of intrinsic motivation, but given support as they asked for it and in the way that they wanted it they all learned when they were ready. One of them learned when she was 10, she just wasn't able to go fast enough and feel safe at the same time before that.

    Some times we tell ourselves we are doing something "for the good of our child" and we may need to stop and ask our self what is the worst that will happen if they don't do something. Is it worth risking damaging their trust or creating fear over something you think they might like or that might be "good" for them? I advocate for letting children decide for themselves what is good for them when it comes to new experiences.