Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Encouraging kids to try new adventures

My six-year-old mastered skiing on blue trails with her dad this weekend, something I have never been able to do.

I attempted to learn to ski much later in life (around 27 years old). My childlike sense of adventure had waned by then and I let fear take over my experience. What if I fall? What if I break my leg? What if I go too fast and can't stop? I have attempted to ski three times, the most recent time with an 80-minute private lesson in Lake Tahoe. I still could not do it - so I quit. I won't ski again.

Pushing children to try adventurous things is, in my non-expert opinion, a very good thing. I know many parents who would prefer their children to live in a bubble, far from anything scary or the least bit dangerous. They hover at the playground, micro-manage playtime, and would probably not dream of sending them down a snowy hill on a set of skis. Of course we all want our children to be free of "boo boos", but sometimes a firmer push towards adventure can create a most amazing response.

I came across a parenting author online, Dr. Jim Taylor, who penned a book titled "Positive Pushing". I have not read the book, but I like the basics laid out on his website. He introduces parents to the Three Pillars of Successful Achievers: self-esteem, ownership, and emotional mastery.

For several days, Amelia pushed back on her daddy's plan to take her skiing. She did not want to be away from home for a full Saturday. She did not want to try to ski again (she went last December also). She had lots of excuses but frankly, none of them were very solid.

We made her go. We told her that she would enjoy it and we gently pushed her out the door at 5:30 am on Saturday for a 3-hour car ride and her big day on the slopes. She came back extremely confident, proud of herself, happy, and exhausted. Her self-esteem was at a peak, she owned her own progress, and her emotions were running high. She was thrilled! Her tall and lean body got some tremendous exercise in the process too. Pushing Amelia out of her comfort zone brought out the very best in her. It felt amazing to see our daughter shine.

Dr. Taylor says that "failing to push children can be as disastrous for children as parents pushing their children too much". There is absolutely a line on each end that we should not cross. We knew Amelia could ski. We knew she had athletic ability and we knew she would enjoy it. So we made her go. Each child in this great big world is different from another, and parents know their own children the best. Maybe skiing isn't the push for yours right now, but perhaps it is a new difficult book to read or a longer, steeper hiking trail or a first-time playdate at a friend's house without Mom looking on. Our job as Mom or Dad is to create independent adults, and little pushes are the first step. 

Just like we encourage our children to try new foods, we should also encourage them to try new sports, activities, and adventures. We should push, positively, just a bit and not give in to excuses. We should not demand perfection and we should take time afterward to listen to their feedback about each experience. Some adventures may be failures not to be repeated - but how else do you find those hidden talents? Try, try again. Eventually, an experience will come along that creates a magical spark in your child, one that could mold his/her body and mind for future success.

Parents know when they see that spark. We saw it when Amelia first read an entire BOB book by herself; her thirst for books is now unquenchable. We saw it when Amelia scored a goal after a hard-fought, aggressive dribble down the length of the soccer field; she is about to begin season five in rec soccer and she's counting the days. I think, perhaps, we saw that spark again when she recounted each swish and slide of her Saturday skiing adventure to me back at home.

We will push baby Andrew towards skiing in a few years also. He will want to take part in all the fun and activity of his big sister. I am starting to think that I need to push myself again too.

I might be in a ski class again - with my toddler at my side. I can't let them have fun without me!

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