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Trying something new can be scary for children, but if parents provide a safe and encouraging environment, they will be eager to learn something new.

On the Playground
Outdoor play is important to children’s development and the understanding of their environment. Playgrounds can offer children a variety of learning experiences and imaginative play, but children can find some playground equipment intimidating, such as the slides and the monkey bars. Pushing children to try things past their comfort level can backfire and make them more afraid and unwilling to try. Instead, give your child time to get comfortable with the equipment and encourage him or her to attempt minimal interactions, such as swinging on the lower rungs of the monkey bars or climbing up one more stair to the big slide each time you visit the playground. Try going to the playground at a time when it is less busy, thus decreasing self-consciousness, and practice new ventures onto the equipment together.

Trial-and-error—the great teacher! Unfortunately, a lot of trials with too many errors can frustrate a child and make him or her feel incompetent. Whether it’s working with clay, counting or writing their names, focus on what has been accomplished to emphasize the progress they’ve made not the obstacles they have yet to overcome. Try learning to do something new yourself—knitting, playing a new game, or learning a new song on the piano—and share your setbacks and progress with your child; it will help him or her understand that not getting it right the first time is part of the process.

I’m Not Eating That!
Most kids cringe at eating some kind of food: They don’t like the way it looks, or they say, “Daddy doesn’t eat it, why should I?” Make trying new foods a family adventure. Shop for food with your child and ask him or her to choose a new food item to introduce to the family. Allow your child to help prepare the new food for the family meal. Try setting aside a specific day of the week that is New Foods Day. Learn what you can about the food item and share that information with your child. Then, at meal time, have your child share what he or she has learned about the new food.

Joining in the Fun
Joining a group of children in an activity may be too much for a shy child, particularly if the child is unfamiliar with most of the players. To help your child move from observer to participant, arrange to meet some of the group members individually, so these children are at least familiar to your child. If the activity itself (say, kickball) is unfamiliar, make a trial run of it one-on-one or with one or two other familiar children before introducing your child to the group activity. Familiarity quiets the fear of the unknown and allows the child to relax and find enjoyment and his or her own strength in the “new.”

Growing With Building Blocks for a Healthy Future
The Look What I Can Do! (PDF 950KB) easy reader is a great way to help children start talking about what they can already do and what they would like to learn to do. As you read the book together, either on the screen or in a printout, have your child talk about what the Building Blocks friends can do—play baseball, roller skate, add, say their ABCs, etc. Then talk about which things your child can do, too. What things would your child like to learn to do? Finally, work together to make a plan to help your child learn or improve this skill. For example, go out three times a week to practice bike riding or put out paper and markers to learn to write and read the ABCs or 10 new words. As your child’s skills grow, use markers, construction paper, photographs, and glue to help create your child’s personal “Look What I Can Do!” logbook.


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Look What I Can Do! (PDF 950KB) encourages children to play outside and exercise, eat healthy meals and snacks, and discover the world around them. Activities throughout the book let children show all of the things that they can do, too!

Safe Exploring for Preschoolers” gives parents ideas to encourage exploration in very young children while offering suggestions of what to keep in mind when they do.

Developing Your Child’s Self-Esteem” describes the importance of allowing children to try even if they fail in order to help them develop positive, healthy self-perceptions.
Encouraging a Shy Preschooler to Participate” provides helpful suggestions for engaging shy children to help them open up to new experiences.

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Updated on 1/16/2013