Boy with floaties in the water

When Should Parents Encourage Cautious Children?

When should parents encourage cautious children to push beyond their fears, and when should they respect their innate sense of limits?

Below is advice from well-known research psychologist Elaine Aron—but I still want to hear about your personal experiences (and so do fellow readers!)

In one of her books, Aron writes about Jim, one of the best fathers she knows. Jim is a carefree extrovert, and he has two young daughters. The first daughter, Betsy, is just like him, but the second daughter, Lily, is more sensitive—a keen but anxious observer of her world. Jim embraced Lily’s way of being, but at the same time he didn’t want her to grow up shy.

So, writes Aron, he “became determined to introduce her to every potentially pleasurable opportunity in life, from ocean waves, tree climbing, and new foods to family reunions, soccer, and varying her clothes rather than wearing one comfortable uniform. In almost every instance, Lily initially thought these novel experiences were not such good ideas, and Jim always respected her opinion. He never forced her although he could be very persuasive. He simply shared his view of a situation with her—the safety and pleasures involved, the similarities to things she already liked. He would wait for that little gleam in her eye that said she wanted to join in with the others, even if she couldn’t yet.

“Jim always assessed these situations carefully to ensure that she would not ultimately be frightened, but rather be able to experience pleasure and success. Sometimes he held her back until she was overly ready. Above all, he kept it an internal conflict, not a conflict between him and her… And if she or anyone else comments on her quietness or hesitancy, Jim’s prompt reply is, ‘That’s just your style. Other people have different styles. But this is yours. You like to take your time and be sure.’ Jim also knows that part of her style is befriending anyone whom others tease, doing careful work, noticing everything going on in the family, and being the best soccer strategist in her league.”

The above post first appeared on Susan Cain’s old blog, The Power of Introverts.

Please share your own experiences. I would love to hear them!