From the time babies are born till age 5, children’s brains develop much faster than any other time in their life. This is why they need a stimulating and caring environment with lots of activities and ways to play and learn, notes Frances Yeo, a child psychologist at Thomson Medical Centre.
She adds, “It's through all these activities that the child has the chance to practise what she is learning and her brain develops and creates millions of neural connections.”
Children possess a natural curiosity in the world around them and are motivated to try things that are novel. This benefits your child as it enriches their experience and hones their ability to negotiate with the environment, explains Associate Professor Ryan Hong, from the Department of Psychology at the National University of Singapore.
“In trying new things, children get to test whether they can step out of their comfort zones, overcome initial fears and uncertainties, and gain a greater sense of mastery over time,” he adds.
For example, by overcoming an initial fear to perform a piano piece in front of an audience, a child may learn that they have the ability to cope with anxious feelings, and gain a new sense of mastery they’ll think, “I can do this”), which give them a confidence that spreads to other areas of their lives.
“It is more important to be aware of the mistakes, laugh over them and learn from them. In the future technological world, innovation and creativity are identified as important skills.”
Exposure to opportunities to try new things bring a host of benefits, points out Geraldine Arudas Susay, a senior early childhood development specialist at Seed Institute (Learning Delivery Unit). Other than building confidence, self-esteem and mastering problem-solving skills, it helps to build their resilience. “It is important for children to develop these skills, behaviours and attitudes for their later years in life,” she says.
Cecilia Wong, a senior early childhood development specialist, Seed institute (Learning Delivery Unit), adds that helping your child learn through trial and error will help them develop the courage to accept mistakes in their life and not feel shamed or guilty over them.
Given Asian parents’ tendency to over-protect their child, would such exposure encourage junior to get into dangerous situations? Not with good communication between the parent and child, Yeo states. This will help them learn the difference between trying and stretching oneself to take on new challenges, versus being adrenaline-seeking, she explains. The key is to teach your child to recognise a dangerous situation.
Arudas Susay suggests, “For instance, if junior wants to slide down the side of the stairs, parents should stop him before his action, and ask him the right questions to spur him to think. Questions such as ‘Let’s think about what you are about to do,” or “What do you think can happen if you slide down the side of the stairs?’”
Learn these strategies to develop a risk-taking mindset in junior:
1. Work around your kid’s disposition
Some kids are more daring and impulsive, while others are more inhibited and shy. Depending on your child’s temperament, parents would have to work around it, Prof Hong notes. For parents whose child is reserved, the strategy is to gently nudge their kid to try new things and if junior is impulsive, remind them to think before acting.
2. Listen closely to your child
Pay close attention when your child shares his feelings and thoughts with you. Be prepared to listen and respond in a sensitive way to all sorts of things ― not just nice things or good news, but also anger, embarrassment, sadness and fear, Yeo says.
3. Give them your support
Be supportive and provide a safe base from which your little one can explore and return to if they feel threatened or scared, Prof Hong advises. If your mini-me is very inhibited, then do not expect them to become the life of a party. Start small by getting your child to interact with other kids in the party in small ways (for example, getting them to distribute candy to other unfamiliar kids). Acknowledge their feelings of apprehension and anxiety, and praise them for trying. When they keep trying, they should feel less anxious and more confident. Then you can suggest a more challenging social experience.
4. Observe what they do
Observe your child and ask them questions to stimulate their ability to think and analyse the environment. Ultimately, they will make a decision based on their analysis. This will build self-confidence, their ability to think critically and solve problems and to make decisions, Arudas Susay notes.
Learning outdoors such as by interacting with nature, help build a child’s courage, resilience and problem-solving skills.
5. Teach them to stay calm
Teach children how to regulate their emotions. Acknowledge that their fears are normal when they try new things and teach them techniques to manage their emotions by stopping to breathe in and out slowly. As they breathe, they should feel their chest rise and fall ― repeat this about 10 times to help them to remain calm, Arudas Susay suggests.
6. Build their confidence and self-esteem
Typical Asian parents tend to skip the praise and encouragement. However, it is important to focus on the process of learning and encourage them generously whenever they achieve a small milestone. This will not only help junior build their confidence and self-esteem, it’ll encourage them to want to try new things and not be afraid to make mistakes or fail, Wong says.
7. Explore the outdoors
She also stresses that learning outdoors such as by interacting with nature, help build a child’s courage, resilience and problem-solving skills.
8. Learn to let go
Over-protective parents who like to be in control aren’t helping their children learn to take risks. Allowing children to take on certain responsibilities and giving them choices and autonomy encourages them to become problem solvers, Wong points out. You’ll also facilitate their learning if you ask open-ended questions.
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