Expanding Your Child's Comfort Zone 3 Tips to Encourage Growth
Are you a lover of all things Fall? This crisp October air reminds me of pumpkins, apple cider donuts and panic attacks over Trick or Treating!
Nothing more spooky than that!😱 My daughter was always a little skeptical of Halloween. On any other day, she loved dressing up, hanging with friends, and eating candy. But wrap all those events into one day and call it “Halloween?” Well, that was just not her bag o’ tricks, if you know what I mean!
And, even though I was aware of this, I still pushed her to participate. I mean, who wants their kid to miss out on such a fun experience that only happens once a year?!?!
So, she half-heartedly dressed up, posed for pictures with her friends and walked around the neighborhood with her goody bag. She did it…reluctantly & cautiously…but she did it. I should have considered that a win, right? Yeah,I should have, buuuuut…
Since it seemed like things were going well, I thought I could push the envelope a littlemore and have my daughter ring some doorbells to trick or treat. Here’s where things went downhill fast.
My daughter stopped dead in her tracks. She made it very clear she was not interested in ringing doorbells and talking to strangers. (And, as a side note, why do we as a society even encourage this?!?! 🤔)
Nevertheless, there I was saying all the encouraging things like... “You don’t want to miss out on all the fun, do you??” “Look at all your friends ringing the doorbells. If they can do it, you can also!” And, one of my favorites, “What are you so afraid of??” As I’m sure you can guess, here’s where the panic mode set in. I pushed her too far.
My daughter, who was working so hard to manage participating in the day’s events, was now pushed way too far out of her comfort zone and was tooootally feeling unsupported! In fact, I probably set her up for feeling unsafe and unsuccessful with all my ‘encouraging’ comments. As parents, we want our kids to be happy, we want them to feel challenged, we want them to have experiences, we want them to learn and we want them to have fun. But sometimes, finding that balance between happiness and trying new things can strike a discord. That risk-taking-growth zone can quickly push them right into the panic zone! Has this ever happened to you and your child? Maybe at the playground? Perhaps joining in at a birthday party? Maybe even trying to learn a new skill, like riding a bike or swimming? Let’s dig into my 3 tips to learn more about what’s happening in a child’s brain when they’re under pressure and how we can shift our adult mindset to truly encourage and support our kids as they stretch out of their comfort zones.
#1 Where does growth happen?
If we look at the Learning Zone Model above, inspired by Lev Vygotsky, you will notice 3 zones - Comfort Zone, Stretch Zone and Panic Zone.
Learning and growing happens when we venture outside of our Comfort Zone and into the Stretch Zone.
How do we get our kids to venture into this zone? We do it by helping them feel safe and secure. Children need to sense that we’ve got them and that they have the tools to succeed.
We can help our kids feel safe & secure by encouraging open communication and validating your child’s feelings. You can build trust by showing up and staying consistent with your rules and expectations. Help your child feel supported and confident by teaching skillsthey’ll need to take that risk.
When a child is not feeling secure enough (under pressure) or has moved beyond their capacity, they may slip into the panic zone where they are met with feelings of overwhelm and stress. This zone can make quite an impression on our kids and cause them to backtrack in their progress. My daughter was in her Stretch Zone for most of that Halloween afternoon walking around the neighborhood. She was participating, involved with a new adventure. Once the expectation moved beyond her capacity, the panic set in!You can see how this can feel like a delicate balance!
#2 How is your child's brain processing information?
I’m no neurologist (nor do I play one on tv), but I do love this brain development model and how it reflects the brain-body connection. Excuse me while I geek out for a moment and explain…I think you’re going to love it. Dr. Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Model shows how the brain develops from the bottom to the top. As you can see in the image, the brainstem at the bottom is fairly developed at birth, and the rest of the brain continues to develop as the child grows — with thecortex continuing to develop through young adulthood! Information & sensations get processed as they travel from the brainstem and up the brain-train shown here.
With this in mind (no pun intended), it would only make sense that with an underdeveloped brain — especially an underdeveloped cortex (aka ‘the logical brain’, ‘the rational brain’, ‘the part of the brain that handles critical thinking’!) information may not always get interpreted accurately.
Pushing outside the comfort zone is already a stressor to the system. You can help your child feel ready for the challenge by making sure they are fed & rested, monitoring the level of ‘push’ they are about to take on, and helping them keep that emotional brain regulated so they don't get ‘stuck’.
In fact, information may just ‘get stuck’ and processed through the limbic (emotional system) much of the time in childhood. Which would explain all the times our kids get monstrously upset over the way you cut their sandwich or by encouraging them to trick-or-treat for free candy! 😂.
#3 Change your questions → Change your thinking → Change your results!
Looking back on that Halloween, I now know my encouraging, "What are you afraid of?" comment was basically me expressing MY OWN fear. Fear of my daughter missing out, fear of her not fitting in, fear of her never trying. I know I'm not alone here. We tend to think this way because we worry about our child's future. In actuality, my ‘encouragement’ was teaching my daughter to disregard her intuition. It was teaching her that peer pressure is ok. It was sending a message of disappointment.Certainly not what I had intended. It's important to notice what you're asking yourself. Are your questions and thoughts based on assumptions and fears, or are you able to get curious and think about how you can support your child? What messages are you sending your child? What questions are you asking yourself? When you change your questions, you change your thinking. When you change your thinking, you change your results. Here are some reframes to change your questions & thoughts:
What assumptions am I making?
She will do this when she's ready.
What would happen if I let my child trust her intuition?
How can I support my child so she's ready for this challenge?
Halloween is supposed to be FUN! And, FUN can look different for every family! If your child struggles with Halloween, you are not alone! Trust your gut & find what works best for you and your family - even if that means your day looks a little different from what other people are doing. It’s ok to create new traditions and activities that feel right for you!
Here's to more treats and less tricks for you & your child this Halloween!