“I found my kid on top of the refrigerator,” one parent complained to me. But I hear it. That note of pride. Their child is bold, brave and a risk taker. These are all traits that our societies treasure. They are, after all, traits that will help a child as they age and mature. So many parents associate the tagline to #raiseawildchild with behavior that is crazy and wild. So where does that leave the child who isn’t?
My journey as the parent of a cautious child begins with my son, Graham. Graham was that baby who was content to just sit and watch the world go by. At nine months old I had to coax him to roll over. Mobility was never a high priority for him. As a first time mom, it was for me. Parents would tell me about how their nine month old was walking or running. My kid just wanted to lay around staring at the grass. I felt like I had somehow failed as a parent because my kid didn’t want to move. We joined Hike it Baby when Graham was two, and while he liked walking, he didn’t have that need to climb every rock like some children did. Fast forward to today. Graham is three and a half, he walks, runs, climbs and otherwise carries on. He is quite the little hiker. He is still the more cautious of my two kids, but he’s starting to take risks. Being cautious is part of my kid. Accepting that was one of the best things I’ve ever done for him.
Wild doesn’t always mean dangerous or crazy
Some kids are cautious. The anxiety centers in their brains run on high. They fear everything because their brain is in overdrive. It is constantly identifying potentially dangerous scenarios and warning them that something could be unsafe. Being the parent of a cautious child, it is sometimes difficult when my kid doesn’t want to try an activity. The Big Outside’s Michael Lanza writes, “what’s familiar and easy to you may seem scary and intimidating to a kid. Evaluate your child’s readiness for something new based not just on its physical difficulty, but how well your child handled previous experiences that presented comparable stress.” This was a great reminder to me to judge things from Graham’s point of view and to consider both the mental and physical aspects of an activity.Wild child activity for Graham looks a lot more like repeatedly throwing rocks into a stream or laying on a bridge to see the water current flow over rocks or finding the perfect stick than it does like climbing a tree. All these activities are part of letting your child fall in love with nature, so let your kid pick the ones they’re comfortable with. Eventually, you can encourage them to try those things that they aren’t comfortable with. Graham likes to walk, so we walk a lot. He’s interested in animals and looking at them but has no desire to hold them.
Wild Child play sometimes looks like stacking tree slices
Focus on gross motor skills
A lot of kids are cautious because their body control just isn’t there yet. From genetically inherited clumsiness, to shifting bone heights and the constant center of gravity changes that children go through, kids have a lot to contend with when it comes to body control. Being sure that your body will go in the direction you intend is a huge confidence boost for these kiddos. You can see a different confidence in Graham when he knows that his feet will do what his brain wants to them to do. Myelination of the nerves proceeds from the brain to the feet, which means that the feet are the last part of the body that children gain mastery over. What can you do to help your kid? Make big movements a priority. Rolling, jumping, kicking a ball, using a giant bubble wand to make massive bubbles are all ways to encourage that muscle control.
Let your kid be who they are
There is not a single thing I wouldn’t do to help my kid. But if he isn’t willing and ready to climb along a fallen tree, then there is not a single thing that I can do to force him. Forcing him is counter productive at this stage because he’ll shut down and not want to try. The best thing I can do in these instances is to scaffold his learning. We break it up into small goals that he can do. If he tries something and doesn’t succeed, then I still tell him how brave he was to try. I’m his cheerleader and biggest fan.
Be prepared to change when they change
A couple of weeks ago, Graham decided he wanted to cross a stream via a flimsy log bridge. I was flabbergasted, but I said yes. There was look of pride on his face when he crossed over and said, “Mama, did you see me do it?” Yeah, kiddo, I saw you. This mama’s heart was breaking into so many happy pieces. As he gets more and more confident, I have to change my vision of him. I have to see the little man in front of me. That three and a half-year-old is growing and changing and is no longer the nine-month old that was content to sit and watch the world go by. He wants to be the world going by.
Your kid is Brave
Your kid is so brave. Learning to jump with two feet from one step to another was a multiple week long event for us. It involved so many trials and failures. And he kept going. He kept trying to conquer that anxiety and fear and body coordination. That is a different kind of bravery. Your kid will get there. Reward those seemingly small triumphs, because they aren’t small to your kiddo. Those triumphs are huge.
Have you had a cautious child? What has helped you parent them? How have you encouraged them?