Many kids don’t like to try new things. They lack flexibility and may stick to the routines they’re familiar with because they fear stepping outside their comfort zones. Unfortunately, these children restrict themselves from experiencing the world as a whole. Parents need to put their children in situations that will introduce them to new things, people, and experiences.
A willingness to try new activities and learn new skills is key for success in the 21st century. There are estimates that today’s kids will have anywhere from 6 to 10 job changes during their lives, for which they will need to learn entirely new skills to be successful. So while they may be learning great skills in the classroom or in their extracurricular activities, in all likelihood they will need to learn others over the course of a lifetime. In this edition of the LearningWorks for Kids Beyond Games series we suggests ways get a child to try new things.
Dress rehearsals. Provide familiarization through dry runs or rehearsals to help assuage the reluctance of your child to try something new. Children who are inflexible are often anxious about trying something new, especially in a larger setting filled with unfamiliar faces. Encourage play-acting with parents and siblings to practice greetings and conversations. Be the lunch lady and give your child a pretend food choice and have them count out their lunch money. Have them come in after everyone has sat down to dinner and ask someone at the table if they can sit next to them.
Ease into it. Kids may benefit from getting to a social event early so as to become acclimated before others arrive. A child entering a new school could benefit from visiting the school during the summer in order to find classrooms and lockers and to meet school personnel and teachers (some schools now hold the first day of classes for younger children a day before the upper classes start). Discuss with your child the fact that many people feel nervous about new situations like going to a new school, meeting new people, or attending summer camp. It will even benefit them to know that you felt nervous when you moved to a new neighborhood, started a new job, or that you might still have nerves the day before a big meeting. Children with separation anxiety might initially try time away from their parents by sleeping over at a relative’s house, which may encourage a child to attend a sleepover at a friend’s home. Graduated exposure to opportunities away from parents in group activities such as after-school clubs, a karate class, or sports practice may help ease the pangs of separation.
Give them the reigns. Putting a child in control of someone else’s new experiences can give them a different perspective. Ask the child and other siblings for suggestions about new things that they want to do. Maybe it’s a new restaurant, a new store at the mall, or even a new route to school. Designate a night when the child gets to choose the order of the evening and what’s on the menu for dinner. Then set a clear goal with his input for something new he will try in the next week. Discuss with a child the pros (like broadening one’s perspective, finding a better way) and cons (discomfort, fear) of new experiences. Use an app like Great Decisions 7, which allows a list of pros and cons for user-defined situations and tallies up the results—a good way to ease fears and get a child to try new things.
Gamify. In real-world situations, children are often more reluctant to learn the directions and expectations of a task by making mistakes and trying something new. But this is something that they eagerly participate in when they play a video game. Learning how to skateboard or ice skate, play a musical instrument, or take a new route to school are examples of ways to practice applying trial-and-error learning in appropriate situations. Talk to your child about these efforts and experiences and the positive and negative aspects of the process. You might even develop a reward system for progress made on a “new experience” goal as an incentive for your child to try new things. An excellent app for this method is ChoreMonster, which gives kids points toward parent-chosen rewards for completing responsibilities like making the bed, and doing homework—this can include trying a new vegetable at dinner or calling a classmate on the phone to invite them for a playdate.
Featured image: Flickr user James Emery