Sometimes it’s hard for kids to realize they should try new things. I speak from experience. I was that kid. I’m really not sure what I thought would happen if I tried something new – the world would end? The sky would fall? I would be left abandoned and alone?
Maybe not having an exact idea of the end result was the problem. What bad thing might happen if I stuck my neck out and went to camp or tried that game all the other kids were playing or whatever? For whatever reason, though, I was convinced it would end badly.
Sure, sometimes I was right. Sometimes when we try new things we fail miserably, but other times it turns out to be the Best Thing Ever. It’s a risk that is often worth taking.
As a parent there’s a fine line between knowing how hard to push a kid into to trying something new and when to leave it alone. Sometimes they just need a little bit of time to decide on their own that, yes, this is something worth trying and it could be lots of fun. Other times, pushing too hard just results in tears, tantrums and resentment along with a long-lasting dislike or fear of whatever it was you forced him or her into trying. Like eating Brussels sprouts. Or jumping into a swimming pool.
Summer camp is an example. I was a shy kid, but I really enjoyed being in Girl Guides – especially the cookies. I was brave enough to venture off with my company to occasional overnight camp-outs, but you couldn’t make me go to summer camp. If I remember correctly it was a week or two in length and located quite some distance from home – like Pluto. I balked.
Part of me really wanted to go, but I was nervous about being that far from home for that long with a lot of people I didn’t know (not unreasonable fears, I suppose).
I think deep down I knew I would love it, though. A friend used to go and she raved about it and pined for camp when she returned. But I had this wall of fear in my head that I couldn’t breach. If my parents had pushed me I’m quite certain I would not only have survived, but I would have loved camp as much as my friend did. How could they have known that, though? My anxiety about it was pretty real – and since going to camp was not necessary for good health and survival, what would be the point of pushing?
I think my parents had pretty good ideas about when to push. Take my brother, for instance, who was nervous about water. I still remember the screaming after they suited him up in enough PFDs to float a boat and pried him off the ladder in our backyard swimming pool. He floated, by gum, and it turns out he LIKED the water. After that he and I practically lived in the pool all summer every summer for years.
There are many times, particularly with Boychild, when I struggle with the dilemma of pushing versus not pushing. (Girlchild doesn’t need any prodding – she tends to embrace every life situation with gusto. I stand in awe of this fearlessness, although I’m sure it will cause different dilemmas in the future.)
Anyway, I was reminded of this parenting issue on the weekend in a minor way. Boychild got a new bike because his old one was too small. He even told us he needed a new one. When presented with the new, bigger one, however, he balked. It was “too big.” We prodded him to climb on. He tried it for about a half a millisecond, struggled and stormed off in disgust. (He’s a “stomp stomp stomp slam” kinda person, like his mama.)
We prodded and reasoned and explained the features of the new bike and, with some time and persistence, by the end of the day he was riding it and loving it.
I doubt we’ll be shipping him off to camp anytime soon, but maybe he’ll slowly learn that if he tries something, he just might like it. Like Brussels sprouts.
Published in The Perth Courier, April 8/10