While at the playground yesterday with Mr 4 and Ms 2, we met a sweet girl named Jazmin (4yo) who was there with her mom. Unfortunately her mom was tied up on the phone most of the time, so Jazmin played with us. She was talkative, curious, and definitely craved interaction – but she was also scared to do some regular playground activities.
For example, one of the play structures had a rock wall that led up to three big slides. After watching Ms 2 fly up the rock wall by herself a few times, Jazmin said “I’m scared to climb that, what if I fall?” Her mom was on the other side of the playground, engrossed in what seemed to be a serious phone conversation (who knows), and I offered to stand behind Jazmin.
I could see in her face how badly she wanted to climb the wall, and how conflicted she was because of her fear. “Jazmin, you’ve got this. I know you can climb it, and I’ll be right here just in case,” I said. She smiled, climbed to the top all by herself, and yelled and clapped in celebration. She proceeded to climb that wall over and over again for about 15 minutes, thrilled every single time that she could not only do it, but that she could do it all by herself.
When her mom came over a little while later, Jazmin showed off her new achievement. Her mom had a wonderful smile and laughed with her daughter’s excitement. Then Jazmin noticed Mr 4 going down the fire pole and said “I want to go down the fire pole too, but I’m too scared.” (Notice a theme here?) Jazmin’s mom, who looked to be texting someone at the time and didn’t look up, said “If you’re scared honey, then don’t do it.”
Now I’m not here to judge, because who knows what Jazmin’s mother was dealing with. Yet I can’t help but cringe at what she reinforced for her daughter: “If you’re scared to do something honey, just don’t try.”
When I heard her mom say that, I could see why Jazmin was scared of things like climbing, tire swings and monkey bars. *sigh…*
Adults struggle with fear enough as it is, the last thing we need to do is carelessly teach future generations to avoid anything that scares them.
Parents (& teachers) are the physical and emotional safety nets that allow children to push beyond their comfort zone and try new things. Children need our encouragement. They need to know it’s ok to be scared, that fear doesn’t have to stop anyone from trying something new. They need to know that we’ve got their backs and that we believe in them. Our belief in their abilities gives kids courage they don’t even realize they have, and they need our help to find it.
My advice? Encourage courage. Nurture independence. Be there the listen, laugh, and lend a hand as often as possible. Help children discover what they’re capable of.
Oh, and let’s also make every effort to stay off the damn phone and PLAY.
How do you handle it when your child is scared to try something new? Share your comments below!