"Come on, Jamie, try it. We did it. Come on, you can too!" This conversation could be taking place almost anywhere – any time – in a kindergarten class. The children could be swinging across the climber, dancing, singing a song, reading a poster, or even eating a new food. Whether children are faced with a physical, verbal, emotional, or cognitive challenge, trying something new in front of a group can be an arduous task for children to face.
Where Are Children Growing?
Developmentally, at five, children become more aware of themselves as individual members of a group. In prior years they have been much more self-focused and egocentric. As long as there weren't any harmful interventions from the outside world, most children felt good about themselves.
But at five and sometimes six, children are beginning to make comparisons between themselves, their classmates, and their friends. Feelings about doing something "well or not at all" are surfacing. Fears of making a mistake or looking foolish may keep children from trying something they might do well and enjoy if they tried.
How children feel about themselves related to such socially based concepts as looking good, being accepted, and feeling successful may determine attitudes they hold on to through life. After all, fear of failure and judging oneself too harshly can be crippling. And if children feel under attack for their feelings, appearance, behaviors, or even beliefs, positive growth is difficult to achieve or maintain. Though we all go through stages of insecurities, having an "inner observer" that expresses observations with caring, constructive criticism can offer important balance.
What You Can Do
Because at this stage of development the world has become a mirror that children look to, important adults in their lives need to make sure that what is reflected back is positive and supportive.
- Examine how you look at and react to yourself. Remember, you are an important model. Even subtle self-criticism can be observed, mimicked, and embellished.
- Create an environment of acceptance. If you truly feel that someone doesn't have to be the best to be great or that a child doesn't have to be like everyone else to be special, your attitude will be nurturing and contagious.
- Celebrate the small stuff. Look for the obscure ways that some children shine. Leaders are usually flashy enough to get recognition, but followers do great things too.
- Demonstrate and encourage appropriate risk taking. In every way you can think of, let children know it's okay to make mistakes or not to do something perfectly.
- Talk about the importance of practice. Did you know how to walk when you were born? No way. You learned by falling down, picking yourself up, and trying again. And so did everyone else!
- Have "take a risk" days. Once a week, or more, choose a challenge and work together to support each other in trying something new.