After last weeks article, we know that adventure is the feeling you gain from an uncertain outcome. We also know why adventure is important. The question becomes how do we incorporate it into raising our children. The fantastic part is that in most instances it will happen naturally when we get out of our own way. Here are seven tactics we used.
Using adventure to appreciate today and the moment:
One of the conditions of a modern lifestyle is wishing for tomorrow instead of experiencing today. As parents we often want to move on to the next stage of development. When we slow down and watch what is happening today, we allow healthy uncertainty into the life of our children.
If I don’t need my child to learn to walk on my schedule, he will figure it out in his own time. The beautiful thing is that he will fall frequently. This is a good thing, it allows the child to experiment and receive feedback surrounding balance. It lets the child know that there are ramifications to all actions and it is ok to try things out. When a child is frustrated he find ways of dealing with frustration. If I help her fast-track his progress she will not have to deal with setbacks. It is the setbacks that allow the child to create systems for navigating through life.
Allow your child to flail:
Not helping was often a beautiful opportunity for Cai. I will always remember how frustrated he would become when he could not climb a certain tree due to a lack of reach or strength. He would ask us to intervene. Thankfully, both of us parents were on the same page with this one. “Cai if you cannot get up by yourself, how will you get down by yourself? We are going to wait until you can do it without help.” The frustration of the moment turned into the greatest joy when he finally had the key to unlock the experience. The good news is that I never dealt with him being stuck or falling out of a tree.
Give your child some autonomy:
My mother never understood why I let Cai dictate the pace or direction of proceedings. She grew up in a time and culture where parents needed to exert their control (when they were around). Well I have two main reasons. One, Cai feels that I trust him to make decisions and take responsibility for situations. The other is that he saw me modeling behavior for dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity. Ultimately he witnessed Adventure Behavior. In Adventure Education we talk about Expedition Behavior – thank you Paul Petzold and NOLS. I want to propose that Adventure Behavior is a similarly important concept. What do you do when outcomes are uncertain? How do you deal with people? How do you make decisions? How do you rationalize and manage risk? This skill set is developed over time and preferably not vicariously.
Encourage your child to help:
Another strategy we have incorporated is involving him in the experience. When backpacking became a regular occurrence at four years old I had Cai help me create a visual checklist. With this in hand Cai was able to find and collect what he needed to pack. By negotiating the contents of his bag we instilled the concept of lightweight backpacking. Since this time he has carried all his own equipment, which lets him feel he is looking after himself. He also knows everything that we are taking and has learned how to use and take care of it all. This has led to a sense of ownership in our experiences.
Find novel ways to prepare your child for the experience:
As he matured so did the adventures. I would prepare him for them by telling stories. These tales often involved a character called Iac. A brave little mouse, Iac would often go to the places we were about to. He was able to provide cautionary advice, behavioral suggestions and a heads up of what to expect. The great thing was what happened to Iac did not always happen to Cai. We were able to prepare Cai for an experience without telling him what was going to happen. That little mouse enabled Cai to achieve a number of things that he would not have otherwise done, while still retaining a level of uncertainty.
Find your own way of doing an activity:
Something that has become evident as we do not have to do activities the way most people do. For instance with rock climbing we started by heading out on to slabs with a short length of rope. I used the same techniques that I did guiding one or two clients. Having tied off coils, I kept some in my hand leaving less than 10 feet of rope between us. I would climb in front keeping the rope tight. If we came to a steepening I would sit him down, holding the rope draped over a spike. When I reached a good spot I would pull the rope tight in my hands while he climbed. He was less than 30 lbs. Occasionally he would want to lead through so I would let him and spot him while we went up.
The secret to this is choosing the right location. I know some are puzzled to see us climb this way because it is not something you usually witness at the crag. The thing is it is very quick technique and there are no complications for the child. Through good judgment we kept things safe.
Use your imagination to shape an experience:
Young skiing involved a lot of chase games. What he did not realize is that by being a snapping alligator I forced him to move in certain ways. Just because you have a plan does not mean that your child needs to know or understand it. Cai just squealed delightedly and had no idea of the manipulation or where he was headed. Uncertainty can be a lot of fun.
There are obviously more ways than this, what are some of the tactics that you have used?
Next week I will further explore the idea of adventure behavior.