My 10-year-old daughter stands motionless before a large black-and-white photograph of two girls on a beach. Nearby, her 12-year-old sister studies a photo caption, while my youngest tugs me toward another set of pictures. We linger unexpectedly during a summer afternoon in the gallery hosting this unusual traveling exhibit about Anne Frank. One would never guess the moans and complaints preceding our visit - moans and complaints that often surface at the suggestion of something new. But this successful outing gives me hope.
Almost every mom has experienced how difficult it can be to convince kids to explore the unknown - even in the name of fun. Kids find comfort in the familiar. It can be easy to give in to their reluctance. But as some moms prove, it is possible to cultivate an adventurous spirit in our kids.
Here are five seeds you can plant to grow your own young explorers:
1. Explore locally. Sharon Rezac, a mother of two, periodically scans local magazines, newspapers and fliers for upcoming events her family can try. “Those give you a lot of ideas and introduce you to things you might otherwise not ever hear about,” she says. (Be sure to check out the print Calendar of Events in this issue and for more great local, family-friendly events, click on the ‘Events Calendar’ on this website.)
Watch for activities near your home that offer chances to break out of your routine. This allows you to incorporate adventure into your life more frequently. And the proximity makes for less time-consuming options, should an experimental outing turn out less than favorable.
2. Listen to your child. To improve your success in delving into new territory, pay attention to your child when choosing. During everyday conversation, notice what piques their interest. “I don’t think we listen enough to kids,” says Isabella Von Der Linden, a mother of two. “Take your cues from them. What are they interested in?”
Discovering those enthusiasms may be an adventure all its own. When sports fell flat for Rezac’s son, she learned to branch out in her search for free-time activities. Her whole family benefitted as a result. “It all comes down to finding out what they like,” she says.
3. Watch your pace. My husband and I learned the importance of pacing while on a family ski trip. When our two youngest appeared comfortable on the smallest slopes, we decided to move them up to harder terrain, in spite of their protests. What followed was a tortuous descent as they sidestepped most of the way down. We spent the next few hours exhausted and unhappy.
The lesson? Follow your child’s lead when venturing into new territory. Some kids throw themselves into strange settings without hesitation. Others, like our two, need time to acclimate. Learn to accept your child’s pace. Otherwise, you risk frustrating them or turning them off.
4. Prepare, prepare and prepare some more. Some children’s reluctance stems from ignorance. It’s the classic ‘fear of the unknown.’ Considering that, help erase their fears by making the new endeavour less foreign. If possible, look up photos online. Discuss what to expect. Create a sense of positive anticipation by framing it as a date you’re looking forward to. Count down the days. Collect supplies.
It can also help to ask what makes them hesitant about the idea. Does it sound boring to them? Why? Relate the activity to a familiar interest. Give them strategies for what you’ll do if their fears come true. Suggest something like, “If it really is that boring, we don’t have to stay the whole time.”
Von Der Linden creates anticipation for her kids by reading, sharing a personal story or watching a movie related to an upcoming trip or outing. “And all of a sudden, she is asking questions and wanting to see it,” she says of her daughter.
5. Once often isn’t enough. As adults, we know from experience our perspective on an activity or location changes as we become more acquainted with it. When introducing kids to new undertakings, it helps to remember their initial reaction doesn’t need to be their final opinion. The first time we visited a waterpark, our girls were not impressed. But the next time we took a day to splash and slide, they enjoyed it more. Now they’re comfortable anywhere at our local waterpark.
“I don’t always take no for an answer,” emphasizes Rezac. “It’s a matter of pushing. Sometimes you have to be tough on them.”
Von Der Linden sees each opportunity as a stepping-stone. She encourages her children to build on their experiences and take new skill sets or knowledge into trying the next thing. Once they finish one class or outing, she’s often quick to point out a possible next step.
When a spirit of adventure doesn’t materialize, hang in there. As Von Der Linden says, “Don’t give up. It’s so easy to. We have our own ideas and timeframe. Try again.”
When you’re diligent in planting those seeds for adventure and tending them regularly, they’ll soon blossom and bear fruit. Von Der Linden emphasizes, “Adventure is how you think about things.”
Which explains all the more why it’s so rewarding when we reap the harvest of our efforts.
Lara is a parenting journalist, mother of three and author of Family Bucket Lists: Bring More Fun, Adventure & Camaraderie Into Every Day.
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