5 Questions for Kids Fearful of Trying New Things

Bestselling author Paul Smith teaches parents how to encourage hesitant children

Bestselling author Paul Smith knows a lot of ways of encouraging hesitant kids, 101 ways to be precise. In his book PARENTING WITH A STORY, Paul documents 101 inspiring lessons to help kids build the kind of character that they and their parents can be proud of.

I asked Paul to share his thoughts on a common parenting struggle: what do you do when your kid resists trying something new? Here’s what he had to say:

One of the most common fears young people face early in their lives is trying something new. The uncertainty and apprehension of failure can be crippling. And if it’s not overcome as a child, it can haunt someone throughout life. One person who’s earned some valuable wisdom struggling to find courage is Kerri Whitfield.

When she was 12-years-old, her family moved. Two years later, Kerri was still feeling a bit like the new kid in town. She’d made a few friends but still didn’t know that many other 12-year-olds. Watching one of her girlfriends play on a softball team that summer, Kerri sat in the bleachers and secretly wished she was on the field with her.

“It looks like fun to play,” she thought.

And she’d make so many new friends that way, too. Eventually, her friend asked Kerri if she wanted to join the team. This was her big opportunity! What did Kerri do?

“I told her, ‘No.’”

Three-plus decades later, Kerri explains that decision this way:

“I was so scared. I’d never played softball before. I’d never played any organized sport before! So I didn’t know anything about the game. I didn’t know the rules, or how to play. All I could think about was how I would fail because I didn’t know how. It never occurred to me they could teach me those things. So I just said no.”

The remorse didn’t take long to set in.

“I was so sad. I kept going to the games and watching them play. There were times I had to wipe away tears, hoping no one had seen me cry. I so wanted to be out on that field. It’s a decision I still regret.”

That event kicked off a lifetime of what Kerri now sees as missed opportunities. Her fear of failure kept her from succeeding at many new things. Sometimes it kept her from trying in the first place, like the singing lessons she never took or the new job she never applied for. And sometimes that fear made her quit soon after starting. She recalls a failed attempt at gymnastics.

“I hadn’t been in the class for long, and we were learning how to do the splits. One of the coaches said that if we couldn’t get all the way down, they would push us the rest of the way. I never went back. Somehow my parents never challenged that decision. So that was the end of my gymnastics career.”

One of her more memorable successes was in learning to waterski. A friend had invited her to ski. But when it was Kerri’s turn, she was too afraid to even get in the water. After a few minutes of grace and ineffective coaxing, her girlfriend’s father pushed her off the boat. Kerri Whitfield learned to ski that day. And the next time, she jumped off the boat by herself.

It probably wasn’t until she had children of her own that Kerri decided her insecurities would no longer impact her or her growing family. She shares these stories with her son and daughter to help them have the courage to try new things. Looking back, there are three lessons she thinks she learned.

* “First, I wished I’d shared my desires more openly with my parents. Maybe then they could have encouraged me to play softball.

* “Second, I wish I’d understood then that I didn’t have to be the best at everything on the first day. Everyone has to learn, even the experts. If I’d known that, I might have gone back for the second day of gymnastics class.

* “Third, I learned that part of life is getting unexpectedly wet. Because sometimes good parenting means pushing your kid off the boat.

The best way to find wisdom in this or any story is to share it with your kids, and then have a discussion about it. Do so. Here are five questions to get you started.

1. Can you recall two or three things you tried but gave up on soon after? What were they? Is it too late to try again?

2. Name something you’d like to do now but have been afraid to try. How can I help you with that?

3. How long do you think it takes for people to get really good at something new, like learning to play the guitar or throw a baseball or write poetry?

4. Can you think of something some people are just naturally good at without having to learn and practice?

5. Let’s have this conversation again next month to see what’s changed and what you’re interested in then, okay?

Paul Smith is a bestselling author whose book, PARENTING WITH A STORY. He’s a keynote speaker and trainer on leadership and storytelling techniques and the author of two other books: LEAD WITH A STORY and SELL WITH A STORY.

You can find Paul at www.leadwithastory.com and follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.