I went down a slide last week and ended up having a huge realization that I haven’t stopped thinking about since. I was with my two nanny kiddos at a trampoline park, and we were having a total blast. Unlike me, they’re both natural athletes and love being at the trampoline park. I was following them, watching them do all kinds of crazy flips & jumps, and snapping pics to send to their parents when they started asking me if I wanted to go down the big slide.
I wasn’t sure what to think, but I figured why not? I try to say yes as often as I can, and I like to model an adventurous attitude. “Sure!” I said, and we walked on over to the big slide. The first thing I noticed was that you have to go down on your stomach, face-first. Not what I had expected, but I was still up for it. Then I started to notice how tall the slide really was and how many stairs there were to get to the top.
I started feeling a little unsure and backpedaled a bit. “You two go, and I’ll watch!” They countered back, “You go! You said you would!” Now, I do teach my nanny kids that it’s alright to change your mind, but in the moment, it felt like the right thing to do was push forward and go down the slide. So, I started the climb up. About halfway up, the first grader I care for shouted up to me, “I’ll meet you at the bottom!” which is the exact thing I’ve said to her every time she’s gone down a slide in the past six years we’ve spent together. It made my heart feel so full (a funny feeling when combined with the butterflies in my stomach) and gave me the boost to make it the rest of the way up the stairs.
After being reassured several times by the teenager working the top of the slide that this was a good idea, I got onto the slide, face-first, on my stomach. I was legitimately TERRIFIED. It really, truly felt so scary! From the top, it looks like a straight-down drop. I couldn’t think of another time I’d done anything like this. I really, really almost bailed, but somehow, I gave myself a little push and flew down that slide, into the air, and slammed onto the landing pad. I’ll be honest – I didn’t love it, but my nanny kids thought it was hilarious (always nurturing that connection piece!), and I felt proud that I had done something scary. I even snapped a pic of the slide and texted my husband about how adventurous I was.
That could have been it for the slide story, but as we finished our visit to the trampoline park, I kept thinking more and more about how brave I had been, before I had a total epiphany moment: my nanny kids are the ones who are brave! They are scared and do it (whatever it may be) anyway, ALL THE TIME.
Think about how many scary things we ask (make) kids to do on a regular basis:
- Start a new grade (or a new school)
- Start a new activity with a coach you’ve never met
- Order your own food at the restaurant
- Go on an airplane (or train or boat or bus) to a new spot you’ve never even heard of
- Visit with this family member you don’t remember meeting before – and hug them!
- Time for a shot at the doctor (or a teeth cleaning or a haircut, or anything where an adult will be in your personal space using sharp tools!)
- Go down this very tall slide (or go down the pole, climb the ladder, try the monkey bars, jump higher)
- Jump in the pool! Dunk your head!
- Shoot a basket in front of all these kids at camp you just met one minute ago
- Try this new food you’re unsure of
- It’s concert night at school! Sing in front of hundreds of people you don’t know
- Meet and play with new kids just because your parents are friends
- Read aloud
Holy cow! I think maybe, as adults, we forget how truly scary some of these things can be, and how often we’re making requests of these kiddos to face that fear.
When kids are scared, we want to push them. We have the BEST intentions – we want them to feel the success and proud feelings that come with conquering a fear and finding success. We worry that if we don’t push them, they won’t grow, and they’ll end up being 25 years old and still not able to ride a bike without training wheels. But, even if we have awesome intentions,
do we really need to push kiddos to “be brave” all the time? On the other hand, what if we never push them to do scary things? How do we know what to do!?
Here’s what I came up with that’s been working for me:
Is it a “have to”
Consider if the scary thing at hand is a “have to” or not. Is this something your nanny kiddos has to do today? Let’s look at that list above. A lot of those are have to’s: going to your new school, going on the planned family vacation, and getting your teeth cleaned are have to things. We need kiddos to be brave and get through these tasks with us; we’re not opting out. These are the times we want to encourage children, and we can do that by citing past experiences and successes, truly listening and validating to their concerns and experience, and being honest about what is going to happen. Don’t tell them a shot won’t hurt – they do! Janet Lansubry says, “the honest preparation that led to their active involvement in those early experiences with the doctor, dentist and hairstylist is the reason my children still like going.” Remember not to use labels or name calling, even in jest. It’s not helpful. Also, remember that the things they are hesitant about don’t need to make sense or be the same things that are scary to you and vice versa!
Now let’s consider those leftover items on the list: trying the tall slide or the monkey bars, trying a new food you’re not sure about, riding your bike without training wheels. These are not things that kids have to do today. We’d love for them to eventually be able to do all of those things, but there won’t be any negative repercussions if they don’t do them today. If it’s not a must, then let the kiddos decide when they’re ready to try it. Give them the autonomy and independence to decide when they’re ready to try something adventurous.
When I was on my stomach, face down, braced for the drop at the top of that steep slide, I didn’t need someone yelling “Do it! Be brave! Don’t be a baby!” What did help was the comfort of knowing I could opt out if I wanted to and hearing a kind word of encouragement on my way up. We want to help raise kids who can say no to things when they’re intuition is telling them not to try something. You want teens that have no problem saying, “Nope, I’m not doing that,” and we can give them safe opportunities to practice that right now. Glennon O’Doyle once tweeted, “There is a family next to me at the store. I just heard the dad say to his kid: “Well, it’s brave to go on a roller coaster. And it’s also brave to say you don’t want to go on a roller coaster.” That dad nailed it.
I’m really enjoying this slide epiphany and newfound appreciation for how brave the kiddos in my life are. If anything, they’re the ones showing me how to be brave, not the other way around, and I’m grateful that my little teachers are so patient, kind, and encouraging to me when I’m not feeling brave. I am committed to returning the favor!