It’s been almost two years since we moved from Karmiel in northern Israel; last week we went back for a visit for the first time!
My husband and I went for the bar mitzva of a close friend’s son, together with the seven youngest kids (ds18 and down). It was so, so, so lovely. Karmiel is a beautiful place with wonderful people, and we really enjoyed being back there.
At the same time, being there reaffirmed for us that moving to a bigger community was really the right decision for our family. One of the benefits of living in a much larger community is that there are many more resources. There are a plethora of extracurricular activities here and for me that’s important because it expands the social and learning opportunities available for our homeschooled kids.
Ds10 just started horseback riding lessons – in Karmiel this was only an option if you had a car to get your child to the stables that were not accessible by public transportation (which we didn’t – and still don’t – have). Locally there is a van that takes the kids there and back, making this doable for us. He’s only had two lessons so far but he already loves it!
Ds9 is very athletic and expressed an interest in gymnastics early in the fall. I thought that was a great idea – he has a lot of energy and I’m a big believer in giving kids opportunities to use that energy in a healthy way rather than suppress it or shame them for having so much energy! But the group I found wasn’t what he had in mind.
Last week I learned about a different group that and they were willing to allow him to come for a trial lesson. This was a mixture of floor exercises and acrobatics, and I was really glad to have found something I thought would be a perfect fit for ds!
However, ds9 wasn’t as enthusiastic as I expected him to be when I told him about the class. Not enthusiastic at all. Actually, he was completely resistant. He said he didn’t want to go into a class where everyone else has been meeting for months, he was nervous about what kind of kids would be there, and in general didn’t feel comfortable with the idea.
So what to do? To push him because I know he’ll love it once he does it, or respect that he says he doesn’t want to?
There’s a fine line between encouraging your kids to do something outside of their comfort zone, pushing too hard or not encouraging them enough. It’s a bit of an art to know when to push more or when to back off!
The first place to begin is to really listen to your child so you understand what his concerns are. Give him the chance to fully express himself and then reflect back what you’ve heard. Don’t rush to explain to him why what he’s saying isn’t valid; for example, telling him how he’ll love the new activity once he does it. It’s not until your child feels heard that he can hear you. When a child feels heard and understood, he often has much less of a need to maintain his position and is more open to considering something else.
I listened to dd9 tell me his concerns. I told him I could understand why he would be nervous, and shared that sometimes new situations makes me nervous , too. Later I shared that for me, it’s the beginning that is the hardest and then it gets easier and easier the more I do something. Rather than tell him what to do, I tried to keep the focus on my experience, allowing him to draw conclusions if he wanted to but I didn’t actively draw any connection between my experiences and his.
I told him that I only would want him to do this activity if he thought he would enjoy it, and if he didn’t think it would be fun, there was no reason to go. I really meant that. I wasn’t trying to manipulate him in any way. If he didn’t want to go now but later wanted to try it, he could let me know and I’d try to facilitate that.
I also let him know that the trial lesson had no long term commitment attached to it, and he could go once and never go again. He asked if i would sit in the class with him if he went, and I told him if it was allowed I’d be happy to do that. He wavered, but then firmly told me he didn’t want to do it. That was fine.
With no pressure on him to make a decision, a short time later he asked me a few more questions and I saw him thinking about it. An hour after the first conversation, he came over to me and said he wanted to try it out if I would stay with him in the first class. On our way there, he told me his stomach felt jiggly; I shared with him that my stomach always felt funny inside on the first day of school and other ‘firsts’. Kids don’t need you to make the discomforts of life go away, but they do want to be validated.
When we got there I introduced him to the instructor, and let the teacher know that ds was a bit nervous that he wouldn’t know how to do the things that others had been learning for months until then. The instructor said new students were joining regularly; in fact there were two other boys trying out that evening!
Knowing who the teacher was and hearing the teacher’s response was reassuring for ds. It helped him feel more prepared for a new situation – if you can it’s helpful to give kids a chance to familiarize themselves in a new situation before they need to participate. I encouraged him to watch the last ten minutes of the class of younger boys before his class began, to give him a chance to see what kind of activities they did, to watch what kind of activities the instructor did and just to get a visual comfort with the room.
The class began and within five minutes his eyes were glowing with happiness. As soon as the class ended, he enthusiastically told me he wants to sign up for the rest of the year. This was less than four hours after I first let him know about the class and he had adamantly insisted he didn’t want to go.
I shared all the details of how I dealt with this situation because it’s the details that helped him move past his fear and discomfort to a place of being willing to try something new. I didn’t force him to do anything; I didn’t try to convince him how fun it would be. I repeatedly listened to him share how he felt, validated it and only shared additional feedback after he felt heard.
This is how I handle resistance of this kind with my kids. Fear sometimes gets in the way of us all trying new things that we might benefit from, so I try to encourage our children to move past their fear. Not by pushing them to burst out of their comfort zones, by by encouraging them to gently stretch the walls of their comfort zones.
Does every child always go along with my suggestions? No. And I wouldn’t expect them to. Sometimes the response makes it clear that the child really isn’t interested, is too intimidated or has too much fear to be able to go into a new situation. In cases like that, I put it aside and recognize that we can come back to it at a later stage. ‘No’ right now isn’t ‘no’ forever.