I have now earned the moniker “adventure momma.” Last year, I took my dear friend’s daughter (then eight) on a zip line/aerial course with the promise that, if she enjoyed herself, it would become an annual occurrence. She enjoyed herself.
This year, when I presented her with the option of again doing the “kid” course from last year or the level one adult course, she bravely chose the latter. I think she started to get a little nervous when she noticed that she was the only person under sixteen in the group of thirty or so in the training and gear-up area. I knew she was nervous once we climbed three stories of stairs to the start of the course. And her fears were evident to everyone when she held tightly to a bolt on the tree on the first platform as the zip liners caused the small landing to sway dramatically.
But never once did she consider backing down. Bolstered by my reminders of how awesome she did last year, the continued instruction from the guide and the expressed nervousness of the adult man behind me, she took a leap of faith. And then another. Each time, holding onto the tree a little less and smiling a little more.
One man in the group, an active marine, looked reticent at having a nervous nine-year-old in his group. At the end, he approached her with a high five and dubbed her a superstar.
That’s an experience every child should have.
Not necessarily the zip lining (although as an “adventure momma,” I full support this activity!), but the opportunity to do something that is scary and feel the satisfaction and confidence on the other side.
The following are five experiences that EVERY child should have by the age of ten:
1 – Time Outside Their Comfort Zone
One of the more common – and frustrating – ways that kids become entrenched in their comfort zones is with food. Once they have decided that they like Kraft Mac and cheese or chicken nuggets, it can feel like trying to engineer a habitat on Mars to get them to try something new. One mom I know recently started the family on Purple Carrot, a vegetarian meal delivery service that offers unique and creative vegetable-based recipes. Her son picks out the biweekly meals and is now excited to try new foods.
Here’s the thing with comfort zones – the more time you spend in them, the harder it becomes to take a step outside of them. If kids are raised without every being encouraged (okay, sometimes pushed) outside their comfort zone, they will become an adult who is afraid to try new things or take any risks.
Depending upon the personality of your child, this journey outside their comfort zone may be quite a struggle for both of you, but the long-term payoffs are worth the short-term frustration.
2 – Occasion to Struggle
As a parent, one of your strongest motivations is to keep your children safe and happy. This noble instinct means that you’ll give up your life for them, but it also means that sometimes you may shelter them too much from their own life.
As a teacher, I constantly have to fight the impulse to give a child the answer or to expedite the process by simply doing some task for a kid (try teaching new middle-schoolers how to open their lockers some time – it’s an exercise in extreme patience!). I resist the urge, because I know that bypassing the struggle also means bypassing the learning.
It’s not easy watching a child grapple with something until their frustration reaches a boiling point. It can be so tempting to step in with your greater wisdom and experience and solve a problem for them instead of stepping back and letting them try on their own. We often want to create so many guidelines and boundaries for them that they have no choice but to follow a predetermined and manicured path.
Yet struggle is exactly what builds strength. Confidence. Resilience.
Let them try. They will fail sometimes. And that’s okay.
3 – Practice With Failure
Brock showed me a video on his facebook feed the other day. It showed a young girl attempting to jump onto a high platform with the encouragement of her father in the background. She tries and fails to stick the landing many times. At one point, you can see her frustration starting to grow and her father steps in and gives her a little pep talk. She nails the next attempt.
This young girl’s muscles indicate that she is training for some sort of gymnastics, but her attitude towards failure shows that, more importantly, she is training for life.
Failure is a certainty. When it is delayed for too long, coming first in later childhood or even adulthood, it comes as quite a shock and can easily be interpreted as, “I am a failure.” By exposing young kids to repeated failure, it normalizes the experience and lessens its power.
Along with failing to achieve their personal goals, kids will experience losing to others that are smarter or more talented (or just luckier) than they are. This can become a great opportunity to expose them to fact that life isn’t fair.
4 – Opportunity to Accept That Life is Unfair
Kids have a tendency to see the world in black and white. If you’re a benevolent character, things will go your way in the long run. If you’re the villain, you will eventually get what’s coming to you. Playing by the rules will allow you to win and breaking the rules always leads to consequences.
As adults, we know it’s not that simple. Some of the kindest souls in the world have been subject to seemingly endless tragedies. Many bad guys find success, even as they harm others to reach their goals. Sometimes the hardest worker is passed up for the raise and the best friend is left in the dust.
Life isn’t fair. It’s up to us to help our kids understand this basic truth so that they do not carry forth with unrealistic expectations. Included in this lesson is the idea that kindness is never wasted and by giving to others, we can help to lift the lives of all.
5 – Episodes of Altruism Without Expectation
My favorite day of the school year is one that we dub our day of giving. The entire faculty joins with the student body and hundreds of parent volunteers to participate in community service projects. It’s always a magical day as the students first realize how much need there is in our own suburban community and then feel accomplished by helping to meet those needs.
Giving to others shapes kids in many ways. It teaches them compassion for others and helps them to respect those that may live differently than they do. It shows them that small acts can have great consequences and that when we work together, we can achieve even greater things. By engaging in altruistic acts without expectation of reward, we encourage them to develop integrity and the importance of doing the right thing even when no one is watching.
By ensuring that your kids have had these experiences, you are raising them to be strong, resilient and compassionate. All these qualities will continue to serve them well far into the future.
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