As parents, we want our children to try new things and stretch themselves. We want to guide and help them find what they love– from sports and activities to fun new foods. Some kiddos are up for just about anything, while others may resist trying new things. Many children are experiencing new anxiety as they re-enter social situations and group activities as we emerge from the COVID pandemic. There are tried and true strategies for encouraging your child to try new things at every age. As role models, we can help build confidence without causing unnecessary stress.
Should I Push My Child to Try New Things?
When encouraging new things, one rule of thumb is to know your child. Often as parents, we become aware of opportunities our kids might enjoy. Sometimes they may be resistant at first and fall in love once they try it. In most cases, gentle pushing is okay if an activity is a good fit for their age, interests, and strengths. However, some children are more resistant to new situations than others. As parents, we must consider our kids’ personalities and comfort levels. Choosing developmentally appropriate activities is essential to finding the right fit for kids of all ages. Adults also need to learn when to stop pushing and let go.
How Can Parents Encourage Younger Children To Try New Things?
With younger kids, focusing on fun is essential. We can also offer encouragement by trying new things as a family to give young children a taste of accomplishment and adventure. Some tips include:
- Make sure you choose sports and activities that are developmentally appropriate for your younger child.
- The Child Mind Institute recommends easing hesitant children into new situations. For example, if they’re trying a new sports team, meet with the coach in advance and check out spaces where practices will take place.
- Acknowledge and address fears and concerns. Talk about anxiety or apprehension and help your child process concerns before starting the new activity.
- Don’t suggest fears or concerns your child is not voicing. Staying positive is important.
- Rehearse and role-play new situations to get your child ready.
- Set incremental goals and praise progress and effort to encourage them along the way.
How Can Parents Help Older Children and Teens Try New Things?
In our society, we often see children choosing and specializing in activities at young ages. In some cases, this is a positive, but it can also lead to burnout and unnecessarily high pressure. Moving into middle or high school can be an excellent time to try something new. But some kids take some convincing, especially when new social situations are involved. Some tips include:
- As with younger children, emphasize fun and keep the pressure low.
- Encourage your child to talk out worries or concerns in advance.
- Start with something they know or are good at and use it as a springboard to explore other activities.
- Encourage them to complete what they start–for example finishing a sports season once they have agreed to or asked to participate.
- Don’t overdo any activity: it can cause burnout or injury.
- Be a role model and try new activities. Share your thoughts about doing things outside your comfort zones and the rewards involved.
- Limit screen time and help your tween or teen list other options they’d like to pursue.
How Can I Get My Child to Try New Foods?
Perhaps the most important thing we can do as adults to encourage our kids to try new foods is to model healthy and adventurous eating. Keep trying and eating new foods–even if your child doesn’t respond immediately. You’re laying the groundwork.
- Make healthy eating fun: cutting fruits and veggies into fun shapes and getting creative with plating for younger children can make all the difference.
- Accommodate your children’s requests but don’t cater to them too much. Allow them to make substitutions (for example, frozen peas instead of another vegetable), but avoid preparing a separate meal every night. One system that works well is a kid-focused breakfast and lunch with nutrition in mind, while dinner is a single meal for the family that encourages exploration.
- Let your children participate in meal planning, shopping and preparation.
- Pick your battles. If your child has a healthy diet but resists certain foods, it’s okay to let go for a while and try again later.
- Sometimes teens may get less adventurous because of peer pressure and busy schedules. Remind them of the benefits of healthy eating, including skin and hair health
How Do I Know If I’m Pushing My Child Too Hard?
As many parents know from experience, pushing too hard can be counterproductive. We want to encourage our children to try new things, but we also need to know when to stop or slow down.
- Make sure your efforts are about your child and not you as a parent. Ask yourself why a particular activity is important to you.
- Watch for signs of depression or anxiety.
- Don’t compare your child to siblings or other children, and keep expectations in check.
- Focus on what they’re doing and accomplishing instead of what they’re not doing
- The Child Mind Institute recommends screening for anxiety disorders or learning disabilities if your child consistently balks at or struggles with new activities.
- Talk with your pediatrician. Another trusted adult can help encourage your child and offer approaches and strategies for parents.
From promoting physical fitness and nutrition to helping kids navigate social situations, your pediatrician is a valuable resource. At Loudoun Pediatric Associates, our practitioners have extensive experience in helping children and parents navigate developmental transitions–and try new things. We offer encouragement and strategies to children and provide resources to parents. We find that love, support and an occasional gentle push without too much pressure is the way to go.