It’s been a busy weekend in our household as we prepare for another school year to begin (I know, can you believe it?). The other day, I encountered a flurry of questions from kids in anticipation for the new school year. A few stood out to me:
“What if my teacher doesn’t like me?
“What if I have to sit next to so –and –so and we keep talking and then get in trouble?”
“What if the math is too hard?”
At the same time, at few statements that I repeatedly found myself saying this summer stood out to me as well:
“Please don’t do that, you will fall.”
“Please give me that, you are going to spill it.”
“You can’t go to that with your friends, you will get hurt.”
Honestly, some of those phrases of mine are written in a bit more of a polite manner than I would like to admit, but you get what I mean.
To raise our kids to be gritty, they need to learn to not be afraid to take risks right? I am talking taking healthy risks like trying something new and learning to do positive things independently. This is different from unhealthy risks like texting while driving or engaging in deviant behavior. One of the big things I have learned and continue to practice (while failing along the way of course) is to encourage and model healthy risk taking. I can’t tell my kids to dream big and to expand their horizons but then turn around and stop them from trying anything new.
A great article (see below) I just read reminded me of three simple qualities within my children – they are trustworthy, they are responsible and they are capable. Repeat these to yourself as you start another exciting school year and make it a good one!
Want Your Kids to Think Big?? Teach Them To Take Risks!
A few weeks ago, as my 5 year old rode his bike full speed down the street, I impulsively yelled out “Slow down….you’re going to fall!!” As soon as I said it, I knew I had made a mistake, one which I tried to be so mindful of in the past. Swiftly and without thinking, I was thwarting his ability to take risks in life.
Risk taking is vital for kids. Kalen Smith of Young Entrepreneur states that “the early years of someone’s life are a test for their propensity to become an entrepreneur.” But this isn’t the only reason kids should be taught to take risks. Risk Taking allows a person to carve out the life they want. Teaching kids that taking risks does not automatically lead to disaster is important, because:
- Learning and personal growth require taking risks
- Risk taking is a hallmark of exceptional leadership
- Willingness to take risks facilitates “thinking big”
- The occasional (but inevitable) failure that accompanies risk, builds character and emotional strength
It’s unfortunate how obsessed we’ve all become with “security.” I want my kids to have courage, to be bold in their dreams and have adventurous spirits. I need to showcase to them that you can’t play it safe when you really want something. Therefore, I must help my kids be fearless in life….which means allowing them to take risks.
One book that opened my eyes to how fearful Western Society has become is ‘The Continuum Concept’ by Jean Liedloff. Jean spent 2 years in the Amazon rain forest with a remote native tribe relatively untouched by the West. Amazingly, she found that very young children, were often left to walk around fast moving rivers, deep well holes and 4 year olds were even allowed to hold machetes. She noticed that the elders in the tribe did not panic when the kids were near these dangers and guess what? The kids did not get hurt.
In this tribe, all elders held a belief that the young child was “innately social, cooperative and had a strong self-preservation instinct.” They trusted that the child observed the elders, wanted to remain safe and would follow the behaviors of the group. They never held an expectation the child would fall, cut themselves or drown…and they didn’t.
We have evolved to take risks. Endorphins and adrenaline are released when taking risks. Neurobiologists believe that high amounts of endorphins gave humans a survival advantage, so that more people could transmit these genes to succeeding generations. Risk taking is in our genes.
One of our goals is to help our kids expand their world. The process of learning, growing and stretching the bounds of who we are—has a built-in positive feedback loop. With each new discovery, each lesson learned, we become larger and more complete than we were before, and we gain confidence that we can continue to grow and learn. The process itself is like a self-esteem escalator, moving higher and faster all the time. Children need to actively explore and discover the world around them and learn to take calculated risks. The more they can do, the better they feel about themselves.
So I started listening carefully for phrases like these:
Be careful….you will fall Don’t do that….you’ll get hurt Watch out….you’ll cut yourself Don’t play with that….you will burn yourself Let me hold it….you’re going to spill it Get off that….you’ll kill yourself If you put your finger in there….you could die Climb down…. you will fall
These phrases, no doubt backed by fierce love for our young ones, still serve to covertly eat away at their desire to take risks. We pound it into kids that they can’t do something without a disaster ensuing and we inevitably create a reality they live into. Follow that up with a “I told you s0” or “You should have listened” and we have sealed their fate.
So, where does that leave us? Should we say nothing when we find our kids speeding on their bike or climbing to high for our comfort? No, but instead of adding the negative outcome you envision, simply make the request you would like followed. Meaning, instead of saying “Climb down…you will fall”, just say “Climb down.” Asking your child why you’ve made this request ,is a great way to generate introspection. This allows kids to become internally directed, which helps them learn to trust themselves and leads to good choices in life.
It’s important we see kids as:
- Trustworthy. (When we trust a child, the child will trust themselves)
- Responsible. (Children relish the opportunity to be seen as soon-to-be grown-ups)
- Capable. (If we identify special abilities in children, they’ll feel capable of making good decisions for themselves)
So, now if my son is riding too fast on his bike, I consciously say “Slow down!!” Encouraging experiences minus negative reinforcement, promotes a ‘mindful courage’, which is one of the most valuable skills I can teach him.
“Only a person who risks is free.” -Anonymous