I love roller coasters. I mean, I really, really love them! I love the thrill of every unexpected twist and turn. There is something about standing in line and hearing the screams of the riders ahead of you that gets my blood pumping. I love the anticipation that builds as the ride tick, tick, ticks, climbing to the highest point before flinging and spinning and dropping.
We have three young kids and somehow all of our children have caught our love for thrill rides. They beg and plead for rides and always want to conquer the next biggest one.
Even our two year old squeals, “Ride Mommy, RIDE!” when she sees any sort of whirling, twirling, contraption. On a recent trip to the beach boardwalk, we discovered that she just met the height requirement for the kiddie free fall. (Thanks to Daddy for the super tall genes!) It has been a rite of passage in our family for each of the kids to take their first ride on the Free Fall but none of them had been as young as two on their maiden voyage.
Of course, she happily agreed to ride, proud to be included with her siblings and, like a champ, she marched on to the ride with her head high. As they strapped her in, I suddenly questioned my parenting in allowing her to go, knowing that it would proceed much like it had with her siblings.
Smiles and giggles on the way up, look of horror on the drop down
Sure enough, that first drop wiped that grin right off her sweet little face and with each drop that followed, she sank lower and lower into her seat.
Our crowd of aunties and uncles and cousins had been cheering and clapping and laughing at the looks on the kids’ faces. It was that weird mix of funny/terrible and hard not to laugh. But my mommy guilt took over and I felt rotten! I wanted to stop the ride and rescue her. I just kept calling out her name and offering encouraging words reminding her to have fun. When the ride ended, I rushed to her and picked her up. She lifted her little chin and looked up at me, only somewhat cross-eyed, smiled a huge grin and declared, “Next I want the racing cars Mommy!” She was ready for more!
As our summer has gone on and my kids have conquered the high dive, the water slide, first sleepovers, and attempts at water skiing, I have been reflecting on what it is that helps them to embrace adventure and overcome fear.
Kids must see adventure modeled.
My husband and I love thrill and want to find the excitement in every opportunity and that rubs off on our kids. They hear in our voice that it is fun and they believe it! While some kids might certainly have a natural tendency to take a risk, adventure can certainly be contagious.
Teach them that risk comes before reward.
We talk openly with our kids about how a walk with God is an exciting adventure and that there is much risk involved to experience Him to the fullest. When they express fear about something new, we try to gently remind them to never let fear keep them from what God might have for them to experience. With each adventure they overcome, they have a greater realization of the reward on the other side. As they grow in faith and God calls them to take great risks, they will feel confident that there is goodness if they will step out.
Kids need space to be brave.
It is so hard not to hover too closely. We want them to feel our comfort and know we are near. But it might just be your step back that helps them to move forward. Perhaps you need to say good-bye at the door of your child’s class on their first day of school, rather than going inside. Maybe don’t stay that extra night in the hotel nearby after dropping your young adult off at college. Take a little step back and then cheer extra loud when they do it without you!
Pray the brave right into them.
When I go to my deepest place of prayer for my kids, I always pray that they will be willing to take risks for the Lord. That is quickly followed by a prayer for myself that I will be able to let them go when they declare they are moving to Africa to save babies or signing up to fight in war…or whatever scenario will test my mama-brave. I pray for their courage to do big things.
Encourage a “don’t turn back” philosophy.
In our family, we say that we don’t turn back. Once you walk out on to that diving board, they only way off is to jump. I am a terrible second guesser so I save myself the heartache by eliminating the turn-around because of fear. We encourage our kids in the same way. If you stand too long at the edge of the diving board, your mind has a chance to run away with a million scenarios. Go, set, ready!
Encouraging your kids to be brave might start with taking a scary step yourself. Maybe start with the Free Fall or the high dive. Kids of any age will giggle at your squeals. They might just try it themselves.
Nina serves as Director of Family Ministry at National Community Church in Washington DC. Nina originally moved from California to the nation’s capital to work for the United States Congress, serving as a Legislative Director in the House of Representatives. Writing and directing education and family policy, Nina realized her deep passion for strengthening the family and the home. She has overseen the family ministry department at NCC since 2001, growing the children’s programs to seven locations. Nina and her husband, Joel, live on Capitol Hill with their three young kids: Eloise, Ezekiel, and Lorenza.