All parents want their children to achieve their dreams and become successful, competent adults with thriving careers and hobbies that keep them entertained. That's not a question. However, in pursuit of this future ideal, parents often find themselves steering their child toward new and greater pursuits, sometimes with a heavier hand than maybe they should. But when you want your child to succeed, understanding how far to encourage them in their attempts can be a difficult challenge to navigate. Just how hard should you push your kids to try something new?
A crucial step in intuiting how hard and how far to push your little one to try something new is to know your kid, noted Dr. Janine Domingues, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. How much encouragement do they normally require? Are they reticent to try new things, but ultimately end up loving them? Are they excited to try new things, but maybe require a little more nudging to get them to keep trying it even if they fail? If you know your child, their personality, and their temperament, then you are already well on your way to determining how far you can push your kid to try something new.
Just this past week began the registration period for kids' soccer. My daughter could not be more excited. She and I love watching the U.S. Women's National Team together, and we're soon going to Sky Blue Football Club game for the first time. We love all things soccer. My son? Yeah, not so much. He's more a video games and bike riding kind of kid. Group sports don't thrill him at all, and to be honest, his coordination skills come from me, and that's a recipe for disaster on a soccer pitch — a lesson I learned the hard way in fourth grade.
Still, I believe in the value of group sports, so I asked him if he wanted us to sign him up. He declined. I tried cajoling. He declined. Eventually, I landed on bribery, and he still declined. He simply has no desire to be a part of sports team in any capacity. There's a fine line parents walk between encouraging our children to become thriving adults, and setting high expectations for their behavior and work, and forcing them into activities and experiences that they otherwise would have no use for. Yes, you want them to try new things, but you also want them to learn to set their own boundaries.
The balance is hard to find. How hard should you push your kids to try something new when it could be difficult? I spoke with Montessori Elementary Educator Deetz Hanna to understand how a child-centered educator approaches this type of encouragement, and she tells Romper, "Everything builds on internal motivation," and that while "there is a lot of emphasis on creating an environment that provides them with rich experiences that (are supposed to) entice them to learn," different personalities will respond differently to different cues. That's why it's so important that you observe your child, and try to intuit their motivations.
"Some kids get super excited and are jazzed about challenges and want to do the things they see other kids doing," Hanna says, while others might meander and distract. Some children are going to go all in all the time, and others, like my son, might need a bit more encouragement. It's understanding when they're comfortable or uncomfortable, and whether or not they feel safe and encouraged.
Swimming, dancing, soccer, and even math might be uncomfortable at first, but if the child feels safe and encouraged, they'll likely continue. But if you keep coming up on a hard no, then it might be time to step back if what you're introducing is not something essential.