We attended a birthday party for a seven-year-old the other day and we were surprised by the behavior of a fellow parent. The father was demeaning and highly critical of his children after they refused to participate in a game that was slightly scary. The kids’ behavior was understandable. The dad's behavior was not.
It got me thinking about how we, as parents, have a choice each time our children are nervous or anxious about trying something — whether it’s a new food, a new apparatus at the park, a new sport, or transitioning into a new school.
Here are some tips:
1. Be Kind
Sometimes it can be endlessly frustrating if your child is nervous or uptight about doing something. Maybe this is behavior that you deal with on a constant basis, and it not only annoys you, but also angers you. This is where you have a choice to make. You can react harshly or with kindness. Obviously, kindness is the best way to encourage your child to do something. Those kind, understanding, and thoughtful words can be the difference between a child who makes the effort and one who doesn’t.
2. Celebrate Successes
Surely there have been times when your children have balked at doing one thing or another, yet somehow found the courage and strength to try. When faced with another, similar encounter, remind your child of those past successes and use that as a foundation to give them the encouragement to try again.
3. Smile Often
When confronted with a challenging situation with kids — especially if it’s a repetitive issue or one playing out in public — it takes effort to hold back our gut, instinctual reaction. Here’s a tip: smile first. By allowing a smile to come to your face, it not only softens your heart, but gives your child the feeling that you have their back and are reacting with love first.
4. Remember Your Moments
Remember the first time you had to play on an organized sports team? Were you worried that you would fail? Remember the first time you auditioned for a school play? Were you fearful that you’d forget your lines or your singing voice would crack, leaving everyone laughing at you? These moments are rites of passage and we all have to go through them. Think back to how you endured those moments and how your parents handled them for a guide on how to help your children.
5. Notice the Effort, Not the Results
Parents often focus on the outcome, rather than the process. So your kid didn’t score the winning goal or get the lead role, but that doesn’t negate their effort. Find something encouraging in their effort and concentrate on that.
6. Encourage Trying
We have a saying in our house that the most important thing is simply to try. If we fail, so what? At least we tried. When you remove the outcome as the most important factor in the equation, it eliminates a lot of the fear over the result and makes it a lot easier for your child to give it a go.
7. Don’t Do Too Much
In some instances, the best thing is to do as little as possible. Let your child sink or swim and by doing so, you are showing them that they can survive and overcome whatever it is that’s bothering them. Kids will see you as their safety net and if you’re around, they’re going to cling to you rather than trying something that intimidates or worries them.