Some children are more adventurous and courageous than others when it comes to learning new sports.
So if your 6-year-old is afraid, for example, to learn to swim (because she fears she’ll drown) or refuses to learn how to ride a bike or skateboard (because she is afraid that she will fall and hurt herself), she needs your encouragement to overcome her anxieties.
Here are some suggestions from child psychologist Dr. Richard C. Woolfson.
1. Treat her fears with respect
As far as you are concerned, adventurous sports are fun and exciting. But your child doesn’t see them that way – to her, they are dangerous and frightening.
So listen to her concerns, treat her seriously and respectfully, and provide her with lots of reassurance that she will be safe.
2. Help her access the potential risks
Point out that most sports are only risky and dangerous when the participants exceed their own limits without thinking of the possible consequences.
For example, cycling is very safe, as long as the rider doesn’t go too fast and the bicycle is well-maintained.
She’ll soon understand that there aren’t as many risks as she thinks.
3. Emphasise the importance of safety
Injuries occur when participants ignore safety guidelines. Explain that children her age can get hurt if they don’t take enough care of themselves, but add that you will make sure she wears all the necessary safety gear, such as a helmet, knee pads and gloves (even if they don’t look “cool”).
4. Point out the benefits
Tell your preschooler that taking part in these sports comes with a number of benefits, including a boost to her self-confidence, the opportunity to learn new skills, the chance to make new friends and the pleasure derived from exciting new experiences.
After all, sports like swimming, cycling and skateboarding are fun.
5. Check out safety yourself
Don’t accept that an activity is safe simply because people have been doing it for years or because you know other parents who have let their kids take part. Speak to the centre, examine the equipment, and ask the staff to explain how your child will be able to participate safely.
6. Introduce sports very gradually
Start with an activity that she’s had some small success with, such as splashing around in the swimming pool. Tell her how pleased you are that she went into the water and add that you know she could start to learn how to swim.
Let her think about this for a few days before raising the matter again.
7. Improve her existing skills
Encourage your little one to improve her all-round skills in sports that she already takes part in, such as climbing, running, skipping and jumping. The more confident and skilled she is in these areas, the less likely she will resist when faced with more adventurous sports.
8. Suggest a trial class
Instead of signing her up for, say, a six-week course of in-line skating lessons, find a class where she can start with a trial lesson.
That way, she will be able to sample the sport without having to commit for a long period. You may find that she is more enthusiastic because she feels less pressure.
9. Praise progress
Show your approval of any minor improvements. Tell her how pleased you are that she is prepared to try a new sport, and give her a big hug when she tries harder than she did before.
Your approval, praise and interest make her want to achieve even more the next time, and will help her overcome her fear.
By Dr Richard C. Woolfson, Young Parents, June 2016
Additional reporting by Joshua Tan