7 Tips to Raising Adventurous Kids
“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh , A. A. Milne
If you’re like me, you hope with all your heart that your children think like Christopher Robin. I’ve been responsible for two of these mini-humans for almost 12 years now, and I’ve learned a little. Even though I’m not as skilled a parent as my wife, I have figured a couple things out.
Here’s one very important thing I’ve learned: Children are born adventurous. As a parent, I can encourage that adventurous spirit to flourish, or discourage it and cause them to lose it. I try to be honest with myself, so I can say that I’ve done a good deal of discouraging so far. However, I’ve done some decent things to help them remain adventurous as well.
As a protective parent, I believe I’m too cautious on many occasions. I tell myself that this caution has good intentions. In the short term, I mean well, but the cumulative effect isn’t positive. I think I’m teaching my children to back down in the face of a challenge when I do that.
I should know better; I sit here and write about personal stories of struggle and growth almost every day now. I hold the belief that the hardest things I’ve been through have been some of my most valuable life experiences. Why should I make my children wait until they’re older to experience challenges that can mold their character into something greater?
Thankfully, I believe I’ve been better about removing some of my cautious attitude in the last couple of years. For all of our benefit, here are 7 ways I’ve found I can encourage my kids’ adventurous spirit to grow.
Share your adventures with them. You’ll take on challenges every day. Make your kids part of them. This will take a little extra effort on your part and you’ll probably have to sacrifice a little of the purity of the activity, but it will be well worth it. For example, my daughter has been going to crossfit style workouts with me at The FitPit for about 3 months now. She’s nearly 12, and 5’8”, so she’s all arms and legs, just as I was at that age. This stuff is hard for her. That was a hurdle at first. She wasn’t sure she wanted to keep going because it was very hard at first. Now she’s getting better at all aspects of it, and the beaming smile I get to see when she accomplishes something is priceless.
Let them see you in pain. You’ve probably picked up on this, but my ego has a strong undercurrent of pride that I have to constantly overcome. Here’s where my brain (and yours) is wrong. It’s going to tell you not to let your kids see you as weak, to always look like Superman in front of them. Wrong. My daughter has seen me on my hands and knees, close to puking, sweat streaming off me, and physically unable to perform 1 more exercise. She’s also seen me push myself off the floor, swallow back the urge to quit, and finish a task after it felt like I couldn’t go on. That’s the message I want for her.
Let others see your pride in them. Somewhere along the way, I developed a mindset of hiding my emotions from others. If you’re like this too, think hard on the cliche’ we’ve all been taught to “praise in public.” That’s still great advice. Just yesterday I stood and watched a huge, beaming, smile erupt on my daughter’s face when I encouraged her as she finished her first ever competition at our gym. Let them see you’re not ashamed of their efforts–ever.
Let go of the leash. We hear a form of this one a lot as well, and it’s true. We can’t keep our kids on one of those retractable leashes you see people using with dogs now. They can’t be reeled in when they’re in trouble like the neighbor’s annoying chihuahua. If we want them to learn to face life’s challenges, we have to set them loose to deal with them on their own.
Hold your tongue. This is where I can do a much better job. As our kids grow and find their own personality, some of us want to guide them too much. I seem to forget that I’ve had 40 years of personal interaction to learn things like tact and timing. I know I created awkward moments at their age and I learned good lessons from them. Here’s what I know now: a child who is frequently “shut down” for speaking up at a time deemed “awkward” by an adult will eventually stop speaking up at all. That’s not acceptable. Let them struggle a bit, it won’t kill them–or you.
Hold them when it hurts. No matter what age they are, sometimes the best thing to do is to just hold your child. As parents, we are curious creatures. We’ll complain all day under normal circumstances that our children don’t listen to us, then we expect they’ll take in our supposed “words of wisdom” when they’re hurting. Doesn’t make sense does it? Let them feel safe with you before telling them what to do.
Don’t coach them, encourage them. When you’re sharing an adventure with your kids, don’t spend the whole time trying to bring them up to your level. You didn’t start out as an expert, neither will they. It takes time! If you’re constantly “coaching” them or “helping” them by telling them little things to do better, they won’t enjoy it and probably won’t want to share this with you again. Instead, let them hear “I’m so proud of you,” and “you’re doing great!” Do it and watch the difference, you’ll be amazed. If you have trouble with this, plan something where there’s third party coaching available. This takes the pressure off of you to make sure things are being done “correctly.”
I wish I could mold my children instantly into a vision I have for them, but we all know that’s not going to happen. That’s a selfish desire that’s only meant to please my self-evaluation as a parent. That’s not fair to a child trying to discover where their path should take them in life. Our kids are a reflection of my wife and I, but they are so much more than that. They have their own spirit of Adventure that will guide them to try new things and keep trying until they find the ones they love. It’s dangerous to micro-manage their discovery as they grow. Take the tips above and let your children flourish into little Adventurers ready to conquer their world.
Adventure Camel Herder