How to Encourage Kids to Try New Things

March 31, 2014 at 8:57 am (Attachment Parenting, Positive Discipline)

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“How can I encourage my child to try new things?”

There is collective agreement among many parents that this can be difficult depending to a child’s temperament and overall outgoing-ness. Some children have no problem trying a new activity (like our children’s recent introduction to parkour, above), while others are just never quite up for it.

“New things” is outside their comfort zone and there are many reasons a child might not be enthusiastic about heading down that path. It means doing something unfamiliar or uncomfortable. It means not knowing what the outcome will be and that it may very well result in failure. It means a child might not be “good.” All of which are reasons to be scared.

But we adults know that some of the best things in life have come from stepping outside our comfort zones–trying new activities, learning new skills, and having different experiences. Pushing ourselves just a little bit is how we learn and grow and become oh-so-well-rounded. Of course we want our kids to become just as experienced and diversified. But this means they must be willing to try new things even when that seems daunting.

How can we teach this? When considering how to encourage your children to try something new, keep in mind a few of their most essential needs that must be met in order for a child to feel comfortable enough to agree to try it:

Children need a strong sense of autonomy–a realization of their basic skills and capabilities in taking care of themselves. A sense of, “I am capable,” and “I can do this.” Help your children develop autonomy by stepping back and allowing kids to take the lead in taking care of themselves. Teach them how to choose their own clothes, get themselves dressed, start their own baths or showers, make their own simple meals and snacks, fix things, build things, clean things. Feeling autonomous is the first step in being able to try anything different.

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Children need a sense of confidence. This is different from autonomy in that instead of a sense of, “I can do this,” confidence is more a sense of, “I CAN do this!” and, “I am successful.”

Help kids develop this by celebrating successes when they occur. Wow! You did it! Look at what you’ve accomplished! That was hard. Congratulations! Thank you! You’re a huge help to this family. Remember: it’s not heaps of superficial praise from a parent that builds a child’s confidence, but regular encouraging words that draw out a child’s own thoughts on the experience. We want a child to be able to pat himself on the back, to praise himself and say, “I did a good job!” Confidence comes when one doesn’t have to look to others for praise and validation, but finds it within oneself.

When encouraging children to try new things, start with small challenges. Everyday successes. Build up confidence with the small things and he’ll be ready to tackle bigger “new things” in time.

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Children need a sense of security. It’s a comfort that comes in knowing, “I am safe,” and, “I belong.” Strengthen your child’s sense of security on a daily basis by making time for them and paying attention during those times. Talk to them, but…mostly listen to what they have to say. Constantly aim to get to know who they are. Accept them wholly. Meet their needs regularly for nutrition, sleep, and physical connection. Have family routines. Play together. Get into the habit of empathizing and validating their feelings. Make sure to communicate to children that they are more important than anything else in the world…let them know, “I’ve got this; I’ve got you.”

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Children need a sense of resilience. They must know that they can survive life’s challenges and hardships. That not everything will go their way, but they are capable of handling frustration and disappointment and moving forward. They must know: “I can survive this.”

Help kids learn that mistakes are OK by disciplining with problem solving versus punishment. Instead of looking for what to do to a child to teach a lesson, look for ways to work with a child in finding a solution. This teaches children that mistakes are a part of life and they’re fixable; mistakes are not anything to be feared.

You can set a powerful example of resilience by trying new things together with your child. Take a new art class together. Try a new activity. Go somewhere you’ve never been, or do something you’ve never done before…together. When you make mistakes, acknowledge them and figure out together what to do next. Talk about that you might not be good at this new skill yet, but you’re learning and having fun anyway. You can model resilience by allowing your child to see and be a part of challenges in a cooperative way.

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When you first work on meeting these needs of children–autonomy, confidence, security, and resilience–you will be able to encourage your child to try new things with greater success. She’ll be ready to step outside that comfort zone because she’ll be well-equiped to know she can handle it. It won’t seem quite so scary out there.

If your child is having a hard time wanting to try whatever new activity you’re suggesting, take a step back and wait. Revisit some of the tools above. Suggest and encourage, but don’t push or insist. Encourage them through their small successes and make sure your relationship is secure.

Encouraging children doesn’t mean finding the right incentive or prize (I’ll give you $20 to try the rock-climbing wall). It doesn’t mean using your relationship as a bargaining tool (It will make mommy so happy if you play T-Ball this year). It doesn’t mean taking whatever means necessary to lure your child out of his comfort zone and try a new experience. It means strengthening a child’s inner senses of autonomy, confidence, security and resilience for him to be able to step out there on his own. To help him want to.

When children have this inner strength they know that they can try any new thing, and despite the discomfort, they will survive the mistakes as well as master the challenges.

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Sometimes We All Need to Do Less. So That’s What I Did.

March 26, 2014 at 7:57 am (Uncategorized)

It’s been so quiet on this blog for the last several weeks! I didn’t intend to take a hiatus from writing, but it seems that’s what happens when life kicks into high gear. This week, my children are on break from school, and while we are not exactly keeping a crazy-busy schedule, we are finally able to slow down, hang out, and spend time at home together. We have ALL needed some reconnecting after weeks and weeks of activities, houseguests, events, and work. Do you have days-weeks-months like this? Yikes! It feels good–no, necessary–to quit everything but the bear minimum for getting through each day. That’s where were are right now. Living minimally. Just doing what we need to live each day joyfully and together.

I do have some thoughts tumbling about in my head that I need to get on paper soon (digital bloggy “paper,” that is)…so thanks for your understanding, readers and fellow parents, and I’ll get the blog up and running once again!

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Highlights From My Conversation on the Lisa OZ Show

February 24, 2014 at 9:47 am (Attachment Parenting)

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I recently had the chance to fly out to New York to appear as a guest on the Lisa Oz Show. The topic was parenting, specifically attachment parenting.

I’ll admit this terrified me. Fly to New York City? By myself? Speak on TV? I’m an introvert who likes the comfort and quiet of my home and the few people who live in it. But beyond the initial fear of stepping outside my comfort zone, I did not really have a reason to say no. I love the concepts of attachment parenting, and if anyone wants to learn more about it, I’m a good person to help with that.

So I flew. I interviewed. I met Donna Karan in the greenroom backstage and talked with her about attachment parenting. The episode aired last week, and I was so proud to have done it. Yay for stepping outside comfort zones! As far as I can tell, there is nowhere online to view this episode nor any clip I can share with you. If I ever find one, you can be sure I will share it here. In the meantime, please enjoy a brief recap of my conversation with Lisa Oz (who, if you’re wondering, is married to Dr. Mehmet Oz of “The Dr. Oz Show” and is the mother of Daphne Oz, co-host of “The Chew”):

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We’ve heard a lot about attachment parenting in the media lately…so, what exactly is it?

Attachment parenting is essentially about meeting a child’s needs. It’s about helping children develop a secure relationship with their caregivers by meeting their  needs on a regular basis. When this happens, children develop a trust in knowing that they aredeeply cared for and their basic needs are consistently met. They form a strong trust and relationship with those who are caring for them. Attachment parenting is just a way of parenting that facilitates that connection.

What about when it comes to needs versus wants? If we give kids everything they want, we end up raising little tyrants…How do you draw the line?

It’s definitely not about giving kids everything want, but about meeting their basic needs–things like love, safety, connection, a sense of autonomy, as well as, of course, things like physical nourishment and adequate sleep. This puts you very in tune with your child. As you grow connected together, you have a good understanding of what is truly a need and what is just a want. A child may think they “need” some candy, but as a parent who is well attuned, you are able to recognize it as merely a “want,” you’re able to say no, set a limit and allow the child to have their feelings about that.

Have you found that attachment parenting has brought you closer to your children?

Oh yes! My children and I have a great relationship. We always find time to talk and connect. I love that my children are 7 and 9 years old and they still like to hold my hand. I love that they want me to tuck them in at night, lay together and have talks in the dark. I look forward to finding ways to keep our relationship strong as the years progress.

Are there certain practices of attachment parenting?

Typically, the ones that are most often associated with attachment parenting are breastfeeding, baby wearing, and co-sleeping…but these are not requirements. They’re just practices that meet a baby’s very physical needs and therefore help facilitate that sense of trust and security early on in the parent-child relationship. The tools you use to facilitate attachment with your child will change as your child grows, so it’s important to know that attachment parenting is not a checklist of dos and don’ts, but a bunch of tools you can use to strengthen your connection while meeting your child’s needs at any age. Parents should not worry that if they’re not doing certain things–that is, using certain tools–then they won’t have a good relationship with their child. So co-sleeping doesn’t work for everyone…that’s fine. There are other ways to meet your baby’s needs at night and find a balance that works for you. Keep in mind there are plenty of ways to meet your child’s needs, build trust, and strengthen your connection.

S0 AP is not about saying you can’t put your baby down?

No. You’re going to need to…and that’s not wrong! But when it works, it is so healthy to carry your baby close to you, wrapped snugly so they get that experience of touch, warmth and closeness. As often as you can do it, go for it. But [and this is what Donna Karan and I talked about backstage], everyone’s situation is different and it won’t be possible to embrace all of the tools of attachment parenting all the time. That does not mean you won’t have a strong relationship with your child. It’s about knowing how different parenting tools help meet a child’s need for security, trust, and basic care, and then finding a balance that works for you. The relationship is the “attachment” of attachment parenting, and there are many ways to develop it.

[Donna was feeling what probably a lot of parents feel when they hear about attachment parenting…guilt that if they didn’t do some of these practices when their children were young, they did something wrong and weren’t as good a parent as they could have been. She expressed concern that parents should know that it’s OK if you’re a working parent and aren’t with your child 24/7. It’s the interactions you have together–whenever you’re together–that are valuable and that work to develop a strong relationship.]

What can parents do if they’re interested in attachment parenting?

Read, research, understand what attachment parenting really is and how children develop. Talk with your partner about what works for you, what might not, what you want to try and why. Work together and communicate to find that balance. Remember, it’s not about dos and don’ts, right and wrong. It’s about meeting a child’s needs on a consistent basis. Understand what those needs are so your child will feel secure and connected to you.

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Then and Now

February 17, 2014 at 7:11 am (General)

It’s been just over 6 years since I started this blog. When I began writing, I had no idea it would have lasted this long. I thought I had a few things to say about my journey into parenthood…a couple of thoughts about our family and the relationship John and I want to build with our kids. It turns out I had a lot to say about connected parenting and finding our own way…and a lot of people who wanted to listen. I’m honored and awed and impressed at so much this blog has shown me over the last 6 years.

My children have grown from 1- and 2-year old toddlers into 7- and 9-year old children. They are still children, but now heading towards the tween years. How did that happen?  Are we really done with those early years? Can it be that they’ve grown into the capable, cooperative kids I see before me who do their own laundry and make their own food and are developing a relationship with each other? I am in awe of the people they’ve become.

Back then…1 and 2…

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And now…7 and 9…

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I have grown from a new mom, unsure and just taking things one day at a a time to a mom who is significantly more calm and confident (albeit still staking things one day at a time). I’ve learned what it means to slow down, tune in, and let go of perfection. Make mistakes. Apologize. I learned what it means to try again and again. Looking back, I feel proud of the parent I’ve become. I love the person my children have brought out in me.

I am honored that you’re here to share this journey with me. Your support over the years has meant more to me than you know. Your comments, your kind words, your shared stories have lifted me up in time of discouragement. I’ve met wonderful new friends over the last 6 years! Thank you all for being here with me and for journeying alongside as we find our own way. Together.

The anniversary of this blog reminds me that parenting is, indeed, a journey. A process. It is ever evolving. Things may not change much from one day to the next, but somehow they change dramatically over the years. All those little moments together add up. And suddenly the early years are behind you and you’re still forging ahead.

What comes next?

Years of positive parenting has shown me that everything that brought our family to where we are now–things like responsiveness, connectedness, forgiveness and communication–is what will lead us through the next stage, too. Our energetic, strong-willed, curious little toddlers who have become such capable children will continue on to grow into confident, competent young adults.

It’s been an amazing experience to see the changes in my children and in myself over these years. I may have started this blog as my journey into parenthood, but it’s become more than that. It’s become my journey through. Thank you for being here with me!

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Managing the Media Monster? We Can Help With That.

January 29, 2014 at 10:17 am (Positive Discipline)

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I’m excited to be in the final stages of putting this resource together! Working with Jane has been an enjoyable experience as we commiserate on the ways electronic screens creep so easily into our families’ lives. (iPotty anyone?) We’ve had a great time putting together personal stories, practical examples, helpful language, and of course the best Positive Discipline tools when it comes to managing media. The release date is estimated for the beginning of March, and I will definitely share when it becomes available!

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