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April 9, 2023

What to do if your child is afraid to try new things

The Comfort Zone

We all want our children to grow into confident adults who are willing to try new things and have new experiences. Sometimes it can be hard to know when to encourage our child to try something new and when to hold back.

What to do if your child is afraid to try new things

This diagram, inspired by psychologist Lev Vygotsky, can be a helpful reference point. Children are most able to learn and try new experience when they start out feeling relaxed and safe – we can call this “being in our comfort zone”. This is the best starting place for growth. If you want to encourage your child to try something new – get up on stage at the magic show, make a new friend – check they are happy and calm. Trying new things from this place allows the comfort zone to get bigger and even more things feel possible!

When to pause

If your child is in an anxious or agitated state this is often not a good time to try new things. The result can be sending them into their “panic zone” and create a sense of terror which can cause the comfort zone to shrink. Negative associations can result from children feeling coerced into doing things they didn’t feel ready to do. Stressed and agitated brains find it difficult to absorb and process information. Learn to notice cues that your child might be heading towards a less calm state, such as faster movements or speech, or the opposite, that they are starting to become slower and retreating into themselves.

Support Your Child to Calm

What should you do if your child is very reluctant to try anything new? Rather than pushing them towards experiences which they find frightening focus on increasing their sense of calm and safety. You can do this by having one to one time together which the child gets to direct. Cuddles, soothing music and stories, for older children a cosy chat with tea and a biscuit. Focus on becoming a safe haven for them, this can be done by bringing warmth to even mundane interactions. This will help to expand their internal sense of safety and over time you can take small steps towards experiences which once seemed frightening. For example my son used to be terrified of dogs which made going to the park quite difficult! I started gently with stories about dogs and cute youtube videos, eventually building up to a walk with a trusted friend’s dog. He has now completely got over this fear.

The rewards for both you and your child of holding back until they are really ready to face new challenges, even if they are seemingly small, like trying new foods, are worth the wait. This post on supporting your child with anxiety also contains helpful information.

Remember to take care of your own comfort zone too. Simply breathing in for four counts and out for eight can be a quick way to calm. A daily meditation practice really helps me to be ready to face challenges as does having a strong support network.

Please talk to me if you need help supporting your child with any of the issues I have touched on – nina@journeyintoparenting.com

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