Most of us would likely agree that nothing great has ever been achieved by sitting back and doing nothing. But taking risks, even calculated ones with great odds of success, is scary. This is especially true in a school setting where taking a leap - like speaking up in class to ask a question or share an opinion, or approaching a group of kids on the playground and asking to join in the fun - raises the possibility of scrutiny, criticism, or rejection.
However, it also provides an opportunity to feel successful, in control, independent, and boost confidence. So how do we teach our children to summon their courage and take chances? Here are 10 tips to support your little ones and help them face new challenges.
Tip #1. Model good risk-taking behavior.
Our children are watching and will imitate whatever patterns of risk-taking - healthy or not - they see us doing. Will they witness us pick up a new hobby or see us text and drive? Observe us try to solve a problem that is outside of our usual comfort zone or note us shy away from a conversation with new neighbors? The most basic step we can take toward showing our kids healthy daring is to be mindful of our own actions.
Tip #2. Recognize and validate their feelings.
If you notice your kids are reluctant to move forward with something new and you can tell it’s because of anxiety or fear, let them know it’s okay to be nervous. Be transparent about your own hesitations with risks so they understand these feelings are normal and totally appropriate.
Tip #3. Don’t push too hard.
Encourage trying something new but if you can see that your child is seriously afraid, don’t force it. It’s better to wait until they’re ready than push them into something that doesn’t work out and have them lose confidence in both themselves and you.
Tip #4. Get them to think through their actions before taking the leap.
Start a discussion about the benefits and drawbacks. If the worst-case scenario involves broken bones and serious health consequences, it’s probably not a good risk to take. If, however, the downside is as simple as having to start over or shake off a mildly bruised ego, it’s probably worth trying.
Tip #5. Encourage self-reflection.
Becoming more comfortable taking chances starts with recognizing the chances we’ve already taken. Can your child jump rope? Read? Handle sleepovers at a friend’s house? Make it through summer camp with new kids and teachers? These are accomplishments that, after achieving them, kids (and adults) tend to forget were once intimidating.
Tip #6. Try not to project your own fears on your kids.
We all have our own anxieties and while there are many great lessons we want to impart to our children, passing along our personal hang-ups usually isn’t one of them. If our concerns aren’t truly rational ones, try to stand back and give kids room to explore their capabilities.
Tip #7. Notice their bravery.
When you see your kids taking a healthy risk, point it out. My kids’ faces light up when I make small comments like, “It must have taken courage to introduce yourself to that little boy by the swings today. Well done!” or “It was great the way you got on that skateboard and tried it out even though you’d never done it before.”
Tip #8. Set them up for success.
You can do this by putting healthy, achievable risks in front of kids. I gave my son a balance bike before introducing him to a pedal bike so he could build his skills incrementally. As parents, we can position our kids to succeed and develop confidence by presenting them with realistic, developmentally appropriate opportunities to stretch and grow their skills.
Tip #9. Take some fun, healthy risks together.
Try out rock climbing as a family. Go down that big waterslide. Make up that new recipe together. By doing this, they’ll learn that taking chances can be fun and doesn’t need to be stressful. Plus when they see Mom fall at the climbing gym, shake off the embarrassment, and get back up to try again, your children will be able to see resilience and adaptation in action.
Tip #10. Applaud their efforts, not the end results.
Remember that the ultimate goal is to become comfortable trying new things. If, in the process, your child discovers they have a natural talent or an innate ability, what a great surprise! Unearthing such aptitude is an unintended byproduct though; the real potential for growth comes from learning the value of trial and error and becoming comfortable with it.