One might expect that children’s capacity for boredom would be matched by an appetite for all things new – if only parenting were so easy. Trying new things is difficult for many children, whether it’s a different food, activity or skill. They like what they know and they know what they like.
The pandemic didn’t help.
Access to novelty and the unknown has been cut off in recent years. There was less exposure to other people’s cooking, limited extracurricular activities and travel, and fewer encounters with new friends whose homes have different smells, foods and rules, among other missed opportunities.
To make matters worse, Covid-19 has made the world a scarier place, where all things new and unfamiliar came with an added risk of getting sick.
“When children are anxious, they tend to prefer predictability, familiarity and repetition, and dislike uncertainty, unpredictability and change. Those last three words are a big part of life during the pandemic,” said Eli Lebowitz, director of the Anxiety Disorders Program at the Yale Child Study Center.
“All children have suffered loss, whether it’s the loss of their normal lives, the livelihood of their family or loved ones,” Lebowitz said. “It’s not surprising that we’re seeing children retreating to places where they have control.”
One of my main jobs as a parent is exposing my children to a wide variety of people and experiences. I do this in the hope that they will become more open, collecting a broad spectrum of colors with which to paint their life story.
Unfortunately, we’re all a little rusty. Children need encouragement to get out and experience the world, and parents and caregivers need help figuring out how to provide that help without making them feel insecure or overexposed. Such a balance requires reflection and intention, which is, fortunately, not impossible to achieve.
Here are expert-approved tips on how to get your kids to try new things without scaring them off.
Start with what they know
Take something your kids already like or are good at and take them to try it out in a new environment or in a slightly different way, said Maurice J. Elias, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University and co-author of “How to Raise a Child self-disciplined, responsible and socially skilled.”
“We want our kids to feel confident about their strengths and use that as a springboard to try something new. What are our children good at? What are they comfortable with? How can we help them move this forward?” he said.
For example, “if they play a musical instrument, where else can they play that instrument?”
There is no need to learn a new instrument, figuratively and metaphorically speaking – just an opportunity to push your child to try something new with the skill or hobby they know.
Routines are your friends
Sometimes a new thing works best when it’s part of an old thing. This is a particularly useful tactic with neurodiverse and other change-averse children, said Karen VanAusdal, senior practice director at the Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.
“Routines and rituals can be very comforting and helpful,” she said. “I believe in keeping them and then stretching a part (of them) to add something new, while allowing the kid the agency and power to decide if they want to do it.”
Here’s a little example of mine: My kids and I used to go out for Korean food on Thursday nights. We recently tried a new restaurant where the food was a little different. They, to my surprise, didn’t care! The idea of eating at a Korean restaurant together felt so safe, exciting and familiar that they were willing to try foods they had never eaten before.
make a list
Ask your child what new things they want to try — or have them write a list, VanAusdal said. Help them figure out what they’re worried about when they avoid new things, whether it’s a sleepover at a friend’s house or a new pasta dish.
Sometimes the act of identifying and naming fears can help to lessen them. It’s a way to feel in charge of your emotions and understand the connection between feelings, thoughts and actions.
“As part of that conversation, you can have them do an exercise in which they imagine themselves doing something they love to do. And then ask them to think about whether they’ve ever tried it,” she said. “It will help them see how, while there may be a small risk involved (in doing new things), the payoff can be huge.”
Sympathize and Encourage
Lebowitz encourages parents and caregivers to practice both recognizing their children’s fears and expressing the certainty that they can handle the task. Both are equally important, he said, and not always intuitive. Some tend to tell children that something they fear is not scary, which can invalidate their emotions. Others tend to comfort them and tell them that it’s okay if they don’t want to do something that scares them, which can validate their fears.
“Communicate acceptance. Recognize that something can be scary, distressing, uncomfortable or difficult,” Lebowitz said. His advice: tell them directly that you know this is scary or difficult for them. Do all right. But don’t stop there.
It’s important to project confidence in your child, Lebowitz added. “Tell them that you believe they have the ability to deal with these challenges and tolerate the discomfort, worries, or negative feelings” that can come from doing new or scary things.
Parents and caregivers are like mirrors to children, he said, and “if the reflection parents create is vulnerable, weak or incapable, then that’s how they see themselves.”
Consider if they are doing enough
Parents and caregivers should also do some thinking, Lebowitz said. Does your child really need to try tofu, martial arts, or a sleepover at grandma’s house?
Or maybe they’re doing perfectly, imperfectly, OK?
He said it’s helpful to think of this process through the lens of food. Is your diet so restricted that they are harming your health? Or they eat a mostly balanced diet that you, the parent, want to be more adventurous, but doesn’t pose a risk to their well-being.
“It really matters what it is. If your child is functioning in general, he’s doing the basics, he has some friends, so be encouraging, but don’t overdo it with everything he’s not doing,” Lebowitz said. “Sometimes doing that prevents us from focusing on the things they are doing.”
Source: CNN Brasil