Family life

Getting your kids to try new things

Tracy Chappell wonders when it's right to push or take a step back and let kids make their own decisions.

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Anna is set for her first big adventure. Photo: Tracy Chappell

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

As I write this, Anna is sleeping in a wooden cabin in the dark rainy night, with a group of people that she barely knows. I am sitting here, wondering if she’s actually sleeping, if she brushed her teeth, and if she’s cold or lonely — or giggling with the girl in the top bunk (because I know for sure she’d pick the bottom).

This is Anna’s first overnight Girl Guides camp, and she was full of excitement all day. But that wasn’t the overriding emotion a few weeks ago, when the camp conversation came up. Anna was adamant that she was not going. I was only a little surprised by her reaction. I moved her to a new unit for Brownies this year, because Avery was starting Sparks and I found a place they could go on the same night at the same time, and I felt guilty, thinking she would have been more enthusiastic about overnight camp with a group of kids she knew.

But when I asked her, she said it wasn’t that. “I just like to sleep in my own bed,” she explained. “I like my stuff, and being here with my familiar things.” That made sense, and I told her so. I reminded her that it would be something new to experience that could be really fun and interesting — a new adventure. “But I like my everyday adventures,” she continued. “I just like doing my normal things.”

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I told her that I was like that too — I still like my routine and my “everyday adventures” — all the while, trying to think of something brilliant to say that didn’t turn this into me pushing her or making her feel like I didn’t understand where she was coming from. Then I remembered that I’d recently had this same feeling — at the Blissdom conference I went to earlier this month. I told her that everyone was telling me it would be this awesome thing and that I would have such a good time, but I wasn’t sure it would be right for me. And I had to present at the conference, and it made me really nervous, because I worried I wouldn’t do a good job. Part of me just wanted to say, forget it, I’m not going.

But I had committed to going, and I knew it would be good experience for me, so I went. And at first, it was a bit awkward. But over the weekend, I met lots of new people and laughed a lot and learned a lot. And I did something I was scared to do, and found out it wasn’t that scary. And I think I did a pretty good job.

“I know, I know,” she said, and she laughed at me because, of course, I’d given her the most typical mom sermon ever.

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The next week after Brownies, I asked her if they talked about camp. She said they did, and she put her hand up when they asked who was going to camp, but did not put her hand up when they asked who was excited about going to camp. She clarified: “I’m going, but I’m not excited about it.” I told her that was perfectly fine, that doing something new is very brave and I was proud of her for taking the leap. “You’ll be happy you went,” I said.

Her enthusiasm grew, especially when she was given the packing list. That’s Anna’s kind of project. She loved searching out each item and checking it off as she packed it. And moments later, or so it seemed, we were driving down a dark, narrow path to a group of cabins in the woods, where we left our daughter with a hug and a smile and a room full of strangers. I was the one with a knot in my stomach. She didn’t even look back as we walked away.

There have been many times since becoming a mom that I’ve stressed over when to push and when to take a step back and let my kids make their own decisions, but I knew I needed to push Anna to go to this camp. I can’t wait to find out what she did, and how she felt and what she learned. By the time you read this, she’ll be back home, full of the kind of stories and memories that only time away from your parents can create. It was a big, scary, important step, but this is just the start of a life full of new adventures, and I know that by tackling this one, she’s going to be that much more confident to face the next one.