Just so you know, I’m writing these tips to kindle your child’s adventurous spirit because I really need the reminder. I feel like I’m a pretty adventurous person. I even felt like I was an adventurous Mom at first, but lately I have found that my Grown Up voice is putting a damper on my boys’ fun because it’s too loud, too messy, or just getting on my nerves. I hear “no” coming out of my mouth before I really think about what I’m saying. When did I become the Fun Killer??
And yet if you ask me, I would say that I long for our boys to be adventurous, to really live life. To be loud and make messes and play outside and run instead of walking. Not when it’s inappropriate, of course. All of those would be unwelcome in a restaurant, for example. But aside from libraries and grocery stores, a little mess and noise is an okay thing.
If you find yourself like me, trapped in a rut of nay-saying and Grown Up Voice, here are a few tips for both of us. Spoiler alert: most of these things have to do with me and you, not as much our kids. I think often the best way to foster an adventurous spirit in your children is for us to get out of the way.
How to Kindle Your Child’s Adventurous Spirit
1. Think Before You Say No.
There are times and places for the word “no.” I am all for having children that behave appropriately and who understand limits. But taking a beat before saying no allows me the room to think about why I’m saying no. Lately I find myself saying no because something puts me out in some way, whether I just don’t feel like getting out the play dough (or sweeping up the tiny pieces after) or I’m not in the mood for loud music or I don’t feel like getting everyone back in the car for the park. Many of the times I say no, it’s for ME. Again, there are times when this is okay—not everything revolves around my kids. But pausing before I say no allows me to ask myself if there is a valid reason.
2. Curb Your Expectations.
Many times when I find myself frustrated and impatient, it’s because my expectations had a head-on collision with reality. I don’t always realize I HAD expectations until I am feeling disappointment. I might expect for an afternoon at the park to be amazing and then find instead that we leave after five minutes because one of my kids has to poop. (That very thing happened this week.) My expectations after five years and three kids is a little bit lower. A little bit more like reality. So we spend five minutes at the park. That may have been the best five minutes of the day. Try to tame the too-high expectations and let reality be a pleasant surprise.
3. Go Outside.
You heard me. I don’t know why I resist this one so much. Mosquitos? Heat? Cold? Birds? Fire ants? I have a lot of excuses. We have a pool in the backyard, which means if we go out front or to a park, there may not be enough fences to contain all the wildness of my kids, so I’m often hesitant. But there is something about the air outside. It’s infectious. It lets you really breathe. It inspires movement and running and tree-climbing, like the openness plays its own music that is heard by the soul. Escape the walls and get out in the open.
4. Laugh with Your Children.
We are all going to get laugh lines as we grow older. Let’s make sure we at least enjoy the process. When I’m all uptight about life and everything else, nothing seems very funny. But when I slow down and remember to look at my children’s faces, to listen to their words and stories, to pause and really be in the moment, THAT’S when I laugh with my children. (And sometimes, nicely, AT them.) When I laugh, my children laugh. And when they laugh, if I’m there in the moment, I laugh too. There is something contagious about laughter that encourages a love and passion for life. It is like salt to a meal: it enhances the natural flavors and makes them even more vibrant and rich. Are you like me, sometimes realizing it’s been days since you laughed? Let go and laugh.
5. Think Outside the Box.
Whether it’s having a night where dinner is bite sized pieces of fruit, meat, and cheese served with a pile of toothpicks to build towers before eating, or giving your kids a bucket of water and sending them out the back door—shaking things up every now and then is a great way to keep the adventure alive. Even small things that are outside the bounds of normal routine and structure can become a chance for a small adventure. Draw a treasure map of your house and hide something small for them to find. Give your kids a plastic bag and send them into the yard to find three things that they think are neat. Have a dance party. Jump on the bed. Those little moments can help keep the world new and fresh and get your kids looking at the world with fresh and curious eyes as well.
6. Worry about the Mess Later.
This seems really small, and not all adventures are messy per se, but I find that when I’m worried about the state of my living room floor or if my kids are wearing their good school jeans or if an activity will require a lot of clean-up, I’m a lot more uptight. I am definitely not saying don’t worry at all about cleaning up, but don’t let that get in the way of the fun now. Set a time for later when your kids can help clean up or if you need to, have them put on their play clothes before you head outside for a whipped cream fight. Teaching responsibility is great, but there is a time for making messes without worry. You’re more likely to enjoy play dough building if you aren’t paying attention to all the tiny pieces falling in the floor.
7. Have Your Own Adventures.
I am a big proponent of the whole putting on the oxygen mask before you put the mask on your children. As in, to take the best care of your children, you need to be in a state to do so. Sure, there are going to be (many) times you are running ragged and barely dragging out of bed in the morning. But in general, if you can make sure your spirit is fed and your body is taken care of and you have the sleep you need (or, at least, the sleep you can get) is key to parenting well. Take this a step further: if you want to foster your children’s adventurous spirit, awaken your own. Have your own adventure. Look at your own life in a fresh way and consider how you might challenge yourself to try something new or outside your box. Laugh with friends or your spouse. Get outside without your kids and breathe in that air. An adventurous spirit is contagious, so take some time to find your own.