Whether you’re planning a trip to the zoo, sitting down with a bedtime story or heading off to the pediatric dentist, it’s up to you to show your kids how to live an adventurous, curiosity-filled life full of learning and exploration — and keeping your fears to a minimum. Ok, nobody sees heading off to the dentist as an adventure, but it doesn’t have to be a tearfully wrought battle, either.
We all want our kids to have hopeful, optimistic outlooks, and in this era where pessimism and cynicism are so powerful — not to mention all of the talk about mental health and anxiety — fighting for your child’s well being is a battle worth waging.
Now that COVID-19 is easing, it’s time to gift your kids with adventurous living. And yes, you have to own up to your part in this. We’ve learned by now that it’s not OK to be a helicopter mom or dad. It’s time to be stronger inwardly so your kids can learn from you how to make the most of their life journies. Even if you’re still your kids’ primary playmate, it’s time to have an honest conversation with yourself and aim to find opportunities for even Baby to take the lead.
From birth, kids learn new skills rapidly as well as the confidence to use them. To thrive, kids need to trust in their own capabilities as well as learn how to rebound from failures. As they grow older, they need autonomy and a sense of individuality.
1. JUST DO IT!
A lot of us put perceived limitations on ourselves and our kids when they are little. Of course special care needs to be taken to make sure children are safe — especially very young infants — but children are not glass figurines.
All parents need to find their own comfort zone in raising kids, but also take note of what may be false limitations you are placing on yourself. Could you go for a hike with your infant? Could your toddler bike a mile or so? Yes and yes.
When my first child was 6 weeks old, or even 6 months old, I could not imagine taking her camping. But I knew people who did it. In the beginning, you’re in survival mode with an infant — barely sleeping, always nursing, and so this mama wasn’t about to go camping. But a daily walk was possible, and that time outside meant everything to me.
Starting kids young on the road to adventurism means that as they grow they will seek it out. My daughter first felt the ocean on her feet at 6 months old. Today, her sea legs are strong, she’s an avid swimmer and fisherwoman and she isn’t afraid of the water or think it’s weird to be near it or in it. Make the fun and interesting things that you want to spend your time doing the new normal for your kids. Children are extremely portable!
2. DON’T OVERTHINK IT
In order to accomplish point #1, it’s important to adopt the “just do it” mind set. When I had three kids under age 4, I wanted to take them all out walking, yet some mornings it felt like a huge ordeal. I remember one morning my best friend with two little girls said to me, “Don’t think about it, just do it!”
Loving my friend’s zest for life, I grabbed my 4-year-old girl, my 2-year-old boy and my 6-month-old son — everybody still in their PJs — and put them in the car and drove to a nearby park. We “hiked,” (the baby in a stroller), until he demanded to get out. We went a half mile or so, but that morning was awesome to just be out and on a trail with happy-to-be-here kids and an I’m-glad-I-did-this-mom.
3. THE MORE YOU DO IT, THE EASIER IT WILL GET
Time and time again, when you want to go do something fun away from home, you will forget something. But if you keep on heading out, you will develop a routine and rhythm that will make it easier each time. You will learn what gear you do and don’t need. With kids, you will always need snacks and drinks.
Each trip or outing is not going to be perfect or even enjoyable. Some days the kids will cry, not want to participate or keep running off. But that happens if you stay home, too. So don’t let it stop you. Know that other days you will get to show your daughter a butterfly up close or an ant hill at work or a nest of Robin eggs or get to see your son hike up a mountain for the first time.
4. ADJUST YOUR MINDSET
One of the easiest ways to incorporate adventure into your kids’ lives is to create it out of everyday experiences. With the right mindset, everything can be an adventure. With a cynical mindset, everything can be a drag. Just on a walk, look at the weeds growing on your street. Check for bugs and sounds. Look for planes. Demonstrate curiosity to your kids and remember, adventure doesn’t always need to be conquering the highest peak — it’s about doing new things. Because guess what? Everything your kid does is a new experience.
5. LOWER EXPECTATIONS
Adventure outings with kids require you to slow down. It can take an hour to hike one mile. As adult adventurers, we are often focused on getting to where we are going (fastest route from point A to point B). Kids don’t operate that way. Toddlers don’t walk in straight lines. Nor do they know your “plan.” So take a breath and enjoy your kids’ natural curiosities. Isn’t that one of the reasons you are out there with them in the first place? To stoke their internal inquisitiveness and enjoyment of doing things? Sometimes forget about reaching the destination and go dig in the dirt with your kids.
With kids in tow, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Know that kids often get tired, hungry, and typically cranky at a certain time of day. For instance, don’t drag little ones through an art gallery at lunchtime. Plan accordingly. If you decide to go kayaking with your 4-year-old, know that he WILL have a meltdown at the absolute furthest point up the river. It’s almost certain.
It’s important for you to know also that kids are experiencing their own challenges and that sometimes that is hard. There will be tears, and that might be OK. Adjust your mindset to consider these as opportunities of growth and learning, and guide your kids through it without giving up. Adventuring with kids gets easier as they get older, but soon enough, because of you, they will be on adventures of their own with their friends. And they will be skilled leaders who know exactly what to do!
Know Your Child
Temperament is the unique early set of personality traits that show up in infancy. Your child will likely hold onto these traits for his entire life, although life experiences will shape his personality, too.The better you understand your kids, the easier it will be for you to best challenge them toward becoming open, flexible and adventurous in life. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are at least nine specific characteristics to consider about your children related to their temperaments.
Activity level: how much they engage in physical activity
Regularity: how consistently they eat, sleep, use the bathroom
How they approach situations: whether they jump into new situations without looking back or take longer to be comfortable
Adaptability: how easily they can adjust to new situations
Intensity: their energy level
Mood: whether they tend to be pleasant or less friendly
Attention span: how long they can attend to a task
Distractibility: how easily they can be distracted
Sensory threshold: the amount of stimulation required for a child to respond
+ Parent Without Fear
You’ve probably noticed kids who are bold and fearless as well as those who are timid like mice. In the book, Parenting Without Fear, author Paul J. Donahue, Ph.D. provides calm and reasoned parenting tools for modeling how to get past your own fears in order to teach your kids to be independent, to persevere and to take control of their lives as they grow. Some of the tools Donahue covers include:
1. Lead by Example
Guard against saying things that may stop your child from doing things and show him the healthy way to be. Push yourself out of your own comfort zone by trying and doing new things that will challenge you and in watching you, challenge your kids.
2. Say, “Yes” More
A lot of parents go straight to “No” when their kids ask to do something. Short of permitting something truly dangerous — and in line with knowing your child — try saying “Yes” more. It’s fun, it builds trust and it creates connection.
3. Know That We Learn From Our Mistakes
Life is an exercise in mishaps — we have to learn from what goes “wrong.” If you can understand that mistakes are not to be feared, you can encourage them to try new things and when they DO make mistakes, help them find the lessons within them.
4. Be There for Them
In all aspects of life, your child needs to know that he can depend on you in all situations. You need to be there for your kids emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Just know that adults can pass their own fears onto kids, and that it’s not helpful to do so.
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