What Kids Need: To Try
I have been asked to speak in front of a group of moms (in a socially distant way!). I have had this honor a few years in a row and always look forward to it. Last year, I spoke about how social media can interfere with our goals of raising well-rounded kids. This year I think I will talk about what kids need, to help us shape a vision of what we want for our families. I am going to try to do a series in this blog, with each blog entry tackling a different facet of what I think kids need. Some of these things seem contradictory. For instance, they need to try new things, learning to give up when they aren't interested in pursuing something. In contrast, it is also crucially important that they learn perseverance, how to stick to something even when it is hard or takes longer than they would like. As parents, we dance along this tension, trying to balance the truths present on each side. If you have comments or questions, please send them to me as I would love to hear perspectives other than my own, especially as I am preparing my talk for this special group of moms.
To get started, I want to explore the lost art of trying. Really small kids will try anything, over and over, especially if it is something you could help them do more efficiently. Think about how a toddler will insist on putting her clothes on even though she can't yet do the buttons, or would rather walk around with the shoes on the wrong feet than have you help her get shoe positioning correct. Before the judgement of the world comes in, kids desperately, independently, want to try things for themselves.
This seems to disappear as they get older. I remember my kindergarten son not wanting to draw because he knew his pictures wouldn't look real. Add to that insecurity a world of social media where everybody is privy to your success and failures, and see how many new things a middle schooler wants to attempt. I hear kids tell me how embarrassed they would be if a friend saw them trip over a hurdle or if they are too slow or can't finish a cross country race. There are still areas where it is ok to stumble- all kids have to take a foreign language at some point so the camaraderie of sounding ridiculous and making grammatical and pronunciation mistakes is still an acceptable place to stumble. But what a shame to feel afraid to try new things when you are young and have an entire world of discovery ahead of you!
Even as an adult, I like to try new things. Take this blog, for example. I don't know how long it will last. I am trying to be obedient to God, following something He called me to do. So far, I have learned a little about web design, and had lots of thoughts and ideas that never would have come to me if I hadn't started. Perhaps this is all I am meant to learn. Perhaps I will find a larger audience and this will lead somewhere else. I am not sure. All I know is that I am trying. I am taking one step at a time to see where it will go. If I stop, I won't have failed because the goal was just to start. If my goal was to become a famous blogger then quitting would be failure. But I set my sights on trying, not worried about the end game.
It is important that we teach our kids to try. Having goals is important, but learning how to start things when they don't know the outcome is also something they need to learn. There is a time for everything. When choosing a college major, it might be better to have an outcome in mind. When trying archery, it is ok of there is no outcome other than learning if you like it.
We need to bring back the joy of discovery. Make it a goal to try something new: new foods, new activities, new classes. Some of these things will fizzle and die but make excellent stories. My daughter used to love telling the story of how she tried guinea pig eyeballs and brains when we were in Peru. "I am the only one in my family to try them. I love the eyeballs but the brains are disgusting." She hasn't eaten these things since, and might never do so again, but she has had the experience. Other things turn into lifelong passions that may come and go with time but add to the character and experience of a person. We have the materials to tie flies, a rudimentary woodshop in our garage, a golf net in our front yard, a ninja warrior course in the backyard, a 2/3 finished basketball mural in our basement, a couple of gold pans on the shelf, all from different activities the kids have tried over the past few years. Some they may come back to, some they are still doing, some seem to be retired. None of these attempts were wasted because they all contribute to building a well-balanced character profile. They allow a more rich conversational repertoire as they can talk a little about fishing, golf, woodshop, painting, panning for gold, and hand callouses from ninja warrior work.
I encourage you to get your kids to keep trying things by modeling the new things you try as well. Make a big deal about trying. Make a smaller deal about quitting. Perhaps you don't stop in the middle of the sport season, so your child doesn't let down the team. But after a season if a sport isn't for them, you can talk about how excited you are to see the next thing they will try. If you start this young, perhaps it will be so routine that they will want to pursue new adventures as they develop through adolescence and into adulthood.