Ask my seven year old if he’d like to go on a new ride at a theme park and he’ll practically climb into his backpack. Watching him gaze longingly at said ride while his younger brother whoops and hollers tells me that he wants to jump aboard, but he is just naturally reluctant to dive straight in. More often than not, by the end of the day he’s not only given it a go, I’ll be trying to stomach my fifteenth consecutive run on said ride with him. So what are the tricks to getting a naturally reticent child to become more spontaneous?
Dr Rosina McAlpine, director at Inspired Children and registered psychologist, comments that her son likes to ‘see someone else’ do something first – he then observes and once he feels ready he then has a go. “I have noticed that he is becoming more adventurous, I have been patient with demonstrating then encouraging him to have a go, and now he will do some things on his own if he sees someone else doing it first,” she says.
Interestingly, I understand where my son is coming from. If my husband calls to ask if a friend can drop in after work, or would I like to go to the movies, I always say no immediately. Within fifteen minutes I’ve always backtracked and I’m never entirely sure why my first response was a no. When I shared this observation with my mum, she admits to doing the same.
“There can be a genetic component to it, and you’ll also find it is a behavior that is being reinforced by observing the reticent parent,” Dr McAlpine says. I have since told my husband to give me a few minutes to answer him about potential plans – it’s a bit painful for him, but he can see that I’m breaking the habit of immediately saying no, and over time, I’m hopeful of an immediate yes!
Dr McAlpine’s other tips include:
• Model the behaviour you want them to develop – nature and nuture are often at play here, and if you are quick to say no, only to step in later when you’ve warmed up to the idea, it is possible that is where your little one has learned it from. Even if it is a genetic thing, new and old dogs can learn a few tricks!
• Find a reference point they already know and show how this ‘new thing’ links to it. A great example is the reluctant preschooler - if you remind them about how they were hesitant to start daycare or playgroup and wound up loving it, they may find that first day a little easier to stomach.
• Introduce ideas slowly, encourage them to take their time to answer and move on from the topic if it is not well received – you can always try again later.
There are times when I wonder if I am best to leave him to it, and other times I feel he is unhappy with his choice to hold back, and a little nudge of encouragement could be just the thing to fire him up. The conundrum for me though is that a) a push usually only makes him dig his heels in, and b) I don’t want to cross the line and make him feel he is being judged and found wanting – that by pushing him, I’m making him feel he is disappointing me just for being himself.
“It’s great to acknowledge that all kids are different and some will just jump in and try anything and others will sit back. However, being willing to try something new is a life skill that makes a huge difference in a child’s life and in life success, so it is worth slowly building their confidence,” says Dr McAlpine.
Avoid making hesitant kids feel belittled by becoming impatient or making unfavorable comparisons to other kids, such as ‘that’s a shame, Sam always tries new things’ - that is disheartening and unhelpful –and it will hurt your child.
Do your children struggle to try new things? Talk with other members on the Essential Kids Forums.
Being willing to try something new is a life skill that makes a huge difference in a child’s life and in life success, so it is worth slowly building their confidence.