How to encourage my child to try something new?

Question

When you want to influence your child to try something which he/she is saying not to do, for example trying a piano class, and they haven't done it before and are resisting it - how to encourage them to do it?


-P.G., California

Child's age: 8



Answer

Dear P.G.,


This is an interesting and universal question. I don’t know if piano is the actual issue you have, or whether it is an example, but pushing a child into something that should be creative, fun and expansive is not the way to go. You use the word “encourage”, and that is definitely the energy we want to use.


It takes a great deal of courage to try something new, especially if it requires a great deal of energy from us, as learning to play a musical instrument does. There are some children/people who are eager to jump into unknown territory and find out things through their own experience, but for most the unknown can produce some anxiety and resistance. Perhaps the resistance comes from the will, which doesn’t want to do something “just because” someone else says to, but it can also be rooted in fear and resistance is an understandable protective response.


Reflect on Your Motivations

It is important to be clear about your reasons for wanting your child to try something. Be honest with yourself and look at your motivation. To use your example – do you play piano and find it to be a source of joy and comfort in your life? If so, then share that joy and include your child in that experience. Let things evolve naturally – perhaps they will want to learn to play, perhaps not. Your joy will awaken joy within them, but it may take a different expression than you imagine.


Perhaps you want your child to try piano because you regret that you never did. In which case, you should take care of that desire and not expect your child to do it for you. You could take lessons together, but only if they are willing and you have a genuine desire to share the experience.


Then take a close look at your child and try to see why they are resisting or what they are afraid of. You can certainly talk to them about it and explore what they are feeling. You indicate that your child is 8 years old. In the Education for Life model, ages 6 – 12 are the feeling years. This is a time when children are exploring the world primarily through the heart and they are drawn to experiences which are heart opening and affirming. Even if your child has another dominate tool of maturity, such as the body, their heart is going to be a very strong influence at this age.


Awaken Enthusiasm

The key is to follow the natural joy and enthusiasm that your child has and to see where that leads. If you still feel that it is important for them to try something that doesn’t come naturally, then the key is to awaken joy and enthusiasm for it.


Share your enthusiasm and find ways to introduce your child to the experience gradually. Take them to a live performance, have fun exploring all kinds of piano music and find out what they like to listen to. Find a free introductory lesson to try. Talk to parents of other children who take lessons. Be honest and supportive with your child. This gradual exploratory approach may result in more interest and less resistance. If you think the resistance is rooted in will, be sure to allow your child to make decisions and follow their lead as appropriate.


Encourage Growth

I’ll take the opportunity to point out a few important “don’ts” here. Don’t keep pursuing the idea once it’s clear your child is not interested. Move on and honor their decision. Don’t shut the door on future growth and possibilities. Learning and growing is a lifelong process. If they try and are not successful in some way, don’t label their efforts a failure. Every experience is an opportunity for growth and expanded self-awareness. Commend them for the courage to try.


One final thought: If your child has a lot of fear that is keeping them from trying any new experience and their fear is robbing them of enjoying life, look for professional help and guidance. It is normal for children (and adults) to be hesitant sometimes about learning new skills or being in unfamiliar situations. Notice those occasions when your child overcomes their anxiety about a new experience and has fun learning something new. Give them credit for trying and recognize their achievement. Talk to them about how they felt and what they learned and what they have gained – inner strength, self-knowledge, and perhaps new friends. With encouragement, they will become more open and less fearful.


All the best,

Lorna