New experiences can be scary! These strategies will help you support your kids and give them the confidence they need to step out of their comfort zone and try new things.
There are three fears many kids have in common:
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of trying something new
- Fear of failure
I know I certainly had these fears as a child. I only allowed myself to “try” in ways I already knew I could succeed. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone was completely out of the question. What if someone saw me fail?
Well, now I have 4 mini-me’s running around my house, and I sometimes see that trait repeating. I also see it time and time again with my kids’ friends, my music students, and the youth I work with at my church.
Fear is a completely normal response to new and challenging situations, and that’s not always a bad thing. We’re naturally inclined to keep ourselves safe. But sometimes, that inclination goes too far, keeping us from learning and discovering new and exciting things.
But most of life’s challenges will require our kids to branch out (reaching out to potential friends, seeking a job, trying a new sport or activity, etc.). And chances are, they will feel a little anxiety. After all, most kids don’t relish the idea of trying something that’s too hard, too scary, too dangerous, or potentially embarrassing.
But that bit of nervousness is a sign of growth and is often the very thing that fuels success.
So if your kids have ever said things like, “I can’t do that”, “I don’t know how”, “It’s not for me”, or “It’s just too hard”, they’re not alone. Fear can leave them feeling powerless and vulnerable, stripping them of any confidence to branch out and try new things.
But with your help, they can learn that it’s okay to take risks. And over time, they’ll learn to tackle new situations, difficulties, or skills with confidence.
Here’s what you’ll find in this post:
- How To Encourage Your Kids To Try New Things: 5 Confidence-Building Strategies
- What Else Can Parents Do To Build Confidence In Their Kids?
- Encouraging Phrases And Questions To Help Your Kids Feel Brave
HOW TO ENCOURAGE YOUR KIDS TO TRY NEW THINGS: 5 CONFIDENCE-BUILDING STRATEGIES
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Our kids are often more capable than they realize. As we help them discover this, not only will they gain confidence in themselves, but they’ll be more willing to try things that are new and difficult – a skill that will benefit them through adulthood.
Here are 5 strategies to get you started. (Be sure to scroll to the end for more ways parents can help, including phrases and questions to spark discussion.)
1. REMIND THEM OF PAST WINS
One of my favorite things to hear from a child is, “I did it!” The way their face lights up gets me every time.
As adults, it’s easy to notice all that our kids accomplish. But it takes a little coaching for our kids to be able to remember and recognize their achievements.
If we want our fearful kids to grow, we need to help them learn to give themselves a little credit. Here are 4 simple ways we can do that:
Discuss “I DID IT” moments. The next time your child expresses some trepidation, talk about other times they were brave and did something hard, new, or scary.
Create an “I CAN” jar. Give your child blank strips of paper and have them write down things they can do. This would be a fun project to do together.
Create A “NEW THINGS” Poster. For an inspiring visual, hang a blank poster and have your child add to it each time they try something new or hard.
Start A “COURAGE” Journal. Help your child keep track of all the adventures and experiences they’ve had as a result of trying new or scary things.
2. CELEBRATE TINY WINS
In her book, Growing Up Brave, Dr. Donna Pincus talks about the importance of taking baby steps toward a new challenge to reduce fear and anxiety. To illustrate this, she uses a bravery ladder. Each rung on the ladder is a step toward conquering a fear or achieving a skill.
For example, my daughter once had to speak in front of a group and was feeling very anxious about it. She first prepared what she was going to say by writing it down. Then she practiced in front of the mirror, then in front of me, then in front of our family.
Each step gradually brought her closer to confidence, and by the time she gave her presentation, she was able to handle all the butterflies in her stomach.
This same process can be used for multiple things such as musical performances, sports, getting in a pool, or even mustering the courage to go down a big, scary water slide.
The ladder inside the free Goal Planning Starter Guide helps kids plan out exactly what steps to take and in what order.
Another way to celebrate tiny wins is to celebrate when you see your child being brave.
It takes a lot of courage to stand up to a pushy friend or to show up to the first softball practice. What might seem like a baby step to you, can actually be a huge win for your child, each one giving them the confidence to be a risk-taker and try new things.
So be sure to praise the process, not just the end result. Over time, your child will learn to recognize their strengths so they can face new situations with far less fear and anxiety.
3. PRACTICE SETTING GOALS
Goal setting is a powerful skill that helps kids grow both in skill and self-esteem. It’s also an excellent way to face new and challenging situations.
If your child has an event or project coming up, especially if it’s causing them stress, they can set goals to prepare. They can effectively plan out their goals using these 4 steps:
1. Discover It: Brainstorm ideas for goals. What does your child want to learn or try? What are they already good at? What would they like to improve? Start with one goal from this list.
2. Design It: Create an action plan for this goal. What steps or actions can they take? Who can help them?
3. Do It: Work on the plan. Record progress, and write down thoughts about what’s going well and what isn’t. Readjust the plan as necessary.
4. Check In: How did it go? What did your child learn? How did they feel about the goal? And most importantly, what can your child do to celebrate?
The guides and activities in our Goal Planning Kits make it easy for kids to work on each of these steps. They also give them something to look back on when they need to be reminded of their ability to achieve.
When it comes to setting goals, teach your child to keep each goal specific. Vague goals rarely get accomplished. They need steps, progress tracking, and a timeline.
4. EXPOSE THEM TO VARIED ACTIVITIES
Kids are good at convincing themselves that choosing not to try something new or challenging is okay. And in truth, it is. It’s okay to say no and it’s good for kids to have a chance to feel autonomy over their choices.
But sometimes, kids can take it too far. Without any encouragement from us, they simply will never try anything slightly scary or challenging. And that’s not a good way to get through life.
After all, what’s the best way for kids to figure out what they like to do? The same way we do – we try it out. We can’t know if we like it or not until we actually try it.
The same goes for kids. Of course, different kids have different temperaments, and that needs to be taken into account. For example, my son would be the first to jump off a dock into the lake whereas my daughter would wait until right before we leave to even consider it.
But sometimes, good parenting means pushing our kids to try things they wouldn’t do on their own.
BONUS: Conduct dress rehearsals with your child!
Before they try something new or scary, run through where they will have to go, situations they may encounter, and things they may need to say. This is a powerful way to take the fear out of the unknown and helps them feel more prepared for the big day.
5. TRY NEW THINGS TOGETHER
Make adventure a family affair!
Try new foods, explore nature, have embarrassing dance parties, and learn about different cultures or activities together. It’s perfectly normal for kids to hang back in new and unfamiliar situations. So having the support of family turns it into something more manageable.
It’s good for kids to see that learning is a lifelong pursuit and that it can be fun and fulfilling – even if the only laughter they get comes from seeing your terrible dance moves or your face after trying an unfamiliar food.
As they practice the skill of trying out new things with you, they’ll learn that it’s okay to not know something. And over time, they’ll gain the confidence they need to branch out on their own.
WHAT ELSE CAN PARENTS DO TO BUILD CONFIDENCE IN THEIR KIDS?
When it really comes down to it, we can’t force our kids to do something. Sure, maybe we can to a degree when they’re small. But as they grow, our influence over them decreases.
Instead, we can encourage them, support them and guide them. Here are 5 ways to do that:
1. SEND THE RIGHT MESSAGES
2. BUILD THEIR INNER VOICE
Kids who feel safe, helpful, important, and appreciated in the family are very different from kids who feel they are a burden or are constantly told they are troublesome, unhelpful, needy, or wild.
3. PREPARE THEM
The fear of the unknown can be debilitating. We can help our kids by giving them all the needed information about an upcoming event or activity. We can also take them to observe other kids doing similar things or build their confidence through “practice” runs that let them try out new conversations, greetings, and other things that make them nervous.
4. LET THEM GO
This one is hard for me to swallow: Much of the greatest growth our kids will experience will be when we’re not around. I want to see it all and experience it all with them, but unfortunately, that’s not how it always works.
I taught private music lessons for over 15 years and without fail, my students always did better when their parents weren’t watching. This also happens with kids ziplining at camps, trying out for plays, and countless other situations.
This is another motivator for me to keep my relationship with my kids strong. I want them to at least tell me all about it!
5. HAVE CONVERSATIONS OFTEN
When kids are feeling afraid about trying something, chances are they’re not going to tell you about it. They’ll either stay quiet or lash out with phrases like, “I don’t like …”. After all, it’s not as easy or cool to say “I’m totally freaking out right now!”
When we recognize this, we can start the dialog for them. Talking about their fear gives it less power over them.
Here are a few phrases and questions to use with your kids.
ENCOURAGING PHRASES AND QUESTIONS TO HELP YOUR KIDS FEEL BRAVE
Some of your most powerful teaching will happen during casual interactions. These phrases and questions will help you make the most of everyday teaching moments.
PHRASES TO USE
- Success means a willingness to try.
- You don’t have to get it the first time.
- It’s okay to not know how to do something.
- It’s okay if you don’t like it the first time.
- Not everything works out the way we think it will, and that’s fine.
- All I want is for you to try.
- Being nervous means you’re challenging yourself. Good job.
- Everyone has to learn, even the experts.
- It’s okay to take breaks.
- I believe in you.
- You are strong, determined, and persistent. You never give up.
- You are such a hard worker.
- You don’t have to be the best on the first day.
- You were scared and you did it anyway!
- It’s important to challenge ourselves, but it’s up to you how to do that.
- Well, that didn’t work. At least you know one way not to do it next time!
- Bonus: Share an experience with your child when you overcame something scary.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
- I see your picture isn’t turning out the way you wanted it to. How can you use it to make something new?
- Oops, that didn’t go as planned. What can we do instead?
- What don’t you like about …?
- What would you say to your friend if they felt this way about …?
- What are you afraid will happen if you try …? What makes you feel that would happen? What is more likely to happen?
- What if I try it with you?
- Would you like to see some other kids doing … first?
- Would you be willing to practice in front of me first?
- Is there something I can do to help you feel more comfortable?
- What’s something you’re scared of trying? How can I help you with that?
- How do you think you will feel if you miss out on this opportunity?
- Can you think of something that used to be really hard or scary that’s easier now? What helped you do it?
- How long do you think it takes for someone to get really good at something like baseball or the guitar?
- Who do you know that seems naturally good at something without having to practice? Do you think they’ll be able to keep being good at it if they never practice?
IN SUMMARY, YOU HELP YOUR KIDS GAIN THE CONFIDENCE TO TRY NEW THINGS BY BEING THEIR BIGGEST SUPPORTER.
If we want our kids to try their best and reach their full potential, we have to help them face their fears of trying new things. These strategies and tips will help your kids gain confidence and collect more positive risk-taking experiences.
And over time, they just might surprise themselves.
How else do you help your kids gain confidence so they can try new things?
OTHER HELPFUL POSTS:
- From Helpless To Hopeful: How To Raise Resilient Kids
- Look On The Bright Side: 7 Secrets To Raising Optimistic Kids
- Simple Ways To Help Your Child Feel Absolutely Loved
- 6 Times Your Child Needs You Most: How To Be A More Present Parent
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