keeping enthusiasm alive

Children have a lot riding on their shoulders.  More than they probably know.  They are the hope of the future and the chance for their parents to do things better this time around…no small charge for us.

More than likely too, there is no one as invested in seeing that small being develop and thrive as their family.  We want to offer every opportunity we can to tap into a potential just waiting to be awakened.  Which is why, I wonder, if we unintentionally sabotage a future potential with our exuberant enthusiasm, mistaking it for encouragement.

Today I added myself to this category.

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The stairway to the forest floor.

After a successful day yesterday of running small ramps, Austin was eager to go to the Nature Center trails by our house.  At the bottom of an immense flight of stairs is a simple nature walk following the side of the hill.  This leads to a creek so small it hardly warrants the title, the sand on its floor immersed in a full two inches of trickling water.  Austin requested an opportunity to ride this trail.

Eager to encourage him, I waxed eloquent on how he’s really becoming quite the stuntman and getting so good on his balance bike that he really could do the mountain bike trails now.   I felt like I was encouraging him and building him up by expressing my faith in his ability to develop future skills.  What was coming across was a slow-building panic that he was in way over his head.  By the time we were ready to take the bike out of the van at the Nature Center, my boy didn’t want to go.  He was terrified from all of my “encouragement.”

When I saw his hesitation, empathy kicked in and I knew I needed to backtrack.   Unintentionally and quite easily, my excitement had overrun his.  His future potential in the activity had been commandeered and the result was terrifying him.

Back the truck up.

Enthusiasm must belong to the individual.  I suggest this is true of both adults and children.  If you have a new hobby you’re considering and your friend gets more excited about you doing it than you are about you doing it, you are robbed somehow.  The enthusiasm you initially felt is now overshadowed by a relationship dynamic that changes everything.

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Fortunately, the alternative is hardly sitting silent.

Encouragement, opportunity and information are wonderful ways energy can be productively spent and can become a meaningful addition.

I don’t need to talk up future skills and scare him, but rather I can show Austin clips of kids on balance bikes both awesome and beginner.  We can take walks in different places to offer different terrains suited to his skill.  And perhaps so important is to make observations on his accomplishments and skills he is currently exhibiting or has exhibited rather than ones he might someday surely achieve.

This extends beyond “Good Job!”   While “Nice!” and “Good job!” are easy and have their place, there is such value to simply describing what we see…giving the kids information on what they are doing.  “You balanced all the way to the bottom!” or “You were going so fast the leaves were flying up like rocket exhaust!”  Specific comments act as a mirror for us to see ourselves, or for a child to see himself.  Having someone take the moment to really notice what you are doing is encouraging.  We feel valued and worthwhile.  What a great feeling!

My assumption of his enthusiasm for a skill he had not acquired set him up for feared failure in an activity he had never tried.  It robbed him of his own powerful enthusiasm and self-discovery.   That’s not what I’m going for.

What is beautiful though is that enthusiasm can be returned to the child.

So I took a step back.  I told him it was really just a joke, all the talk about stuntmen.  He wasn’t a stuntman here, just a boy going to ride his bike in the leaves on the forest floor.  There weren’t going to be any jumps, tricks, or ramps to daunt him, just a dirt path and a Momma and Gabe running around.  All the hype was just me getting excited for him.  I was sorry.  We were just going for a walk.  Would he like to bring his bike on a walk?  No stunts included?

The answer was a resounding “Yes!”

Excellent.


Copyright 2010 Ginger Payton, all text and photos

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4 responses to “keeping enthusiasm alive

  1. You know, Bee, over-enthusiasm IS robbing someone if you get too excited about something that should be THEIR excitement. And yet, enthusiasm can be the trigger for helping someone over their “no confidence” issues.

    It all goes back to “who do you want to be and how to you want to get there.” Your story was wonderful. A little moment in the life of a 3-year-old that can be applied to anyone, no matter how old. Beautiful story, Doll. Loved it.

  2. Excellent point.
    Even “no confidence” issues can still fall back for encouragement on traits that you have genuinely already noticed rather than a hypothetical skill development. For instance, I imagine telling Austin that I know he could go over the jump, he just has to try! is less likely to be convincing than pointing out to him that he’s gone flying over the curb before at full speed and this jump is the same height as the curb.

    But honestly, I think we’re thinking the same thing and just working through my idea of defining enthusiasm vs. encouragement because encouraging someone TAKES enthusiasm too. Hmm…perhaps I’m digging myself in deeper here 😉

  3. I love this Bee! I’m also admiring your empathy, your insight & intuition, and your ability to adjust to what you’re seeing on the fly. I call this “art” and “presence” at school. You are amazingly artful to me. The quality of your presence is transforming. Thank you for sharing your art with us & the world. LY, Papa Ross

  4. Awesome Gweeg! I’m finding that ultimately in life, meaningful encouragement comes from ourselves. Sometimes it feels good to be recognized, but I think that is something entirely different. I really admire your ability to analyze situations like these. Put many parents in the same situation, and long before their child ever rode a bike on the little path in the woods, I suspect many would look at it from their viewpoint and judge it in a manner that would ultimately deny the child the experience. It’s not safe enough; what’s the point; the cons outweigh the pros — you get the idea. I think it really is cool that you look at this from what is in my mind an analytical viewpoint as opposed to an emotional one. Your kids are the beneficiaries of your passion and intelligence, and WOW is that cool!

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