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What's in Your Bucket List?

My roller-coaster-fearing daughter Katherine has flown in a Breezy (an experimental open-air airplane). My eldest daughter Bethany overcame an aversion to rodents and other pests while working her dream job at a summer camp. And I jumped from a three-storey-high platform (zip lining) in spite of an intense fear of heights. All of these happened in the pursuit of our bucket list goals.

A bucket list provides a fun and motivating means for conquering a variety of fears. And it creates opportunities to learn fear-busting skills. Teach your kids how to overcome common fears, such as the fear of failure, fear of the unknown, and fear of missing out, through setting and completing bucket list goals.

Fear of failure - The fear of failure can be debilitating, especially to kids with perfectionist tendencies. Oftentimes, kids who are afraid to fail believe failure marks them as incapable. They can’t imagine life continuing in the aftermath of defeat. And so they avoid risk in order to avoid failing. They only attempt things they expect to succeed at, which prevents them from growing.

How a bucket list conquers this fear - It gives them audacious goals to go after. Once-in-a-lifetime bucket list goals are frequently difficult to reach, which means it may take a few (or more) missed tries before your child succeeds. Living through failed attempts at bucket list goals teaches kids that life goes on. They survived. The more times you allow your child to fail by encouraging them to go after big goals, the more resilient they’ll become and the less fearful they’ll be of failure. 

The bucket list approach - Work with your child to pinpoint a meaningful achievement in a subject or activity they love. It could be making the honors orchestra, pitching a great game, or winning a medal in Science Olympiad. Talk about it as a bucket list goal - something they hope to achieve once (to start). Emphasize that it may take a few tries and failing is part of the process. Then help them take action on their goal. Avoid the temptation to step in and prevent them from failing. Instead, when they fail, offer support. Assist them in figuring out how to adjust their approach in order to succeed in the future.

Fear of the unknown - Let’s face it, so much is new for kids that if we let them succumb to their fears of the unknown, they may never leave our home. They would never start preschool. They wouldn’t try a new sport, or make new friends. This pesky fear has plenty of opportunity to surface, so we need to teach our kids to overcome their fears.

How a bucket list conquers this fear - An eagerness to reach a goal often crowds out fear of the unknown. Curiosity and enthusiasm propel kids to seek out more details and information. Their imaginations fill in the rest of the unknowns with positive expectations.

When two of my daughters signed up for their bucket list goal of learning how to fence, they didn’t worry about their lack of prior experience in the sport. Their excitement prompted them to read information on what to wear, what equipment is used and what would be provided, and how long the sessions would last, which was enough to give them courage for the first day of class.

The bucket list approach - Help your child choose a new experience from their bucket list. Encourage them to focus on what makes the goal exciting. Provide them opportunities to learn more information that will fill in as many unknowns as possible. This could involve reading handouts, visiting a venue, going through a schedule, asking others about their experiences, etc. Narrowing the amount of unknowns and framing the experience as exciting limits the fear and equips kids with skills for handling future unknowns.

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) - FOMO isn’t merely an adult phenomenon created by social media posts. Kids can face that fear, too, especially in the tween and teen years. They lament about what ‘everyone else’ is doing. They compare their life to others and worry good things are happening without them.

How a bucket list conquers this fear - The child who has opportunities to chalk up experiences that fit their particular interests using their bucket list doesn’t have time to mull over what others are up to. Their own life becomes interesting enough to make the rest not matter. They also learn the value of delayed gratification when they sacrifice in the short-term for the sake of a bigger goal.

The bucket list approach - Encourage your child to choose a big bucket list goal they can break down into manageable steps. These steps could be saving money, researching options and information, or practicing a skill. Prompt your child to do what they can to make regular progress toward their goal. Seeing themselves make strides toward meeting a large goal helps combat the sense that nothing interesting happens to them, because they have something to look forward to. Skipping an outing to the movies with friends in order to save money for a once-in-a-lifetime concert makes missing out a non-starter.

Bucket list defined

buck·et list (noun): a list of what you want to do, achieve, see or be, or people you want to meet, in your lifetime.

Lara is a parenting journalist, author, and mother of three. Her books Family Bucket Lists: Bring More Fun, Adventure & Camaraderie Into Every Day and Bucket List Living For Moms: Become a More Adventurous Parent help families create bucket lists that bring them closer together and make lasting memories. 

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