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.
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.
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.
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!”