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The boy is now nearly four years old, and he has a tendency to not wanting to try anything new or doing things he's not good at. Here are some examples:

  • If you give him a coloring book and some crayons, he will draw for a couple of minutes before saying "I don't know how" / "I'm no good" and gives up.
  • He doesn't want to taste anything new, so there isn't much he eats
  • He likes to ride a bike (with training wheels) downhill, but pedaling is too difficult, he doesn't want to do it
  • He likes to climb and is good at it, but if you try to get him to walk a balancing beam (just a foot high), he doesn't want to do it.

I don't know what he's thinking, but I assume it's a kind of fear of failure. He prefers to not even try over trying and failing. That would explain the eating problem as well, like he's thinking "What if I don't like it? Better to not even taste it."

How can we help him?

  • 2
    How do you handle it now? (We don't want to advise you to do what you've already tried without success.) What is your goal? It may seem obvious that your goal is to get the child to try, but if your goal is to get your child to do things he's not comfortable with at present, that's a different ball of wax. – anongoodnurse Jun 14 '18 at 16:28
  • How it's handled now: it isn't really. If he doesn't want to do something, he doesn't have to (as these aren't things that he has to do). I'm just afraid he'll miss out on stuff he would enjoy if he just gave them a chance. – rijnswind Jun 15 '18 at 11:06
  • Encourage his interests and praising him for trying something new. If he's too afraid, he won't like it, you try it first and show him it's actually fun/tasty/etc. – jcmack Jun 15 '18 at 23:40
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This is a perfect case where you can lead by example and show him that although not everyone is good at everything, you at least have to try. In the meantime, while you are trying, you can still have fun.

I'd recommend that when you recommend for him to try something, when he immediately says "No, I don't know how/I don't want to mess it up/I'm no good", then you say something like "Ok, then I'll give it a try". Then, to your best ability, try to do whatever it is you're encouraging him to do.

  • If he quits coloring, get right beside him, find another new page, and color together. Go outside the lines. Make an elephant purple. Draw an extra object that wasn't already there. Show him that fun can be had even when you don't do it correctly.
  • If he doesn't want to try new food, try it along with him. If it's good, exaggerate that feeling. "Oh my! This is REALLY yummy! I really like this and I'll have to try it again one day!" Say things like this and show that although it might be your first time trying it too, it's fun to try new cuisine.
  • If he is scared to ride a bike, run alongside him. Better yet, get your bike out and ride with him. Again, lots of fun with big smiles on your face
  • Jump on the balance beam after he says he doesn't want to try. Stumble off. Be clumsy. Struggle with it just like he thinks he will. Show him it's OK to not be good at it. This would be better if there were people around too, like friends or other family members so you can all laugh and have fun together trying to master the balance beam. Laugh a little bit at how bad you are but also make sure that he knows if you or him continued to practice, you both would get really good at it.

Outside of showing him and having fun by leading by example, explain to him that it's important to try new things. Not willing to try new things leads to a pretty boring life. Encourage him to try new hobbies and be careful not to discourage him when he puts forth the effort to pursue something new.

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To the already excellent answers i would like to add 'persistance'.

My son did not like drawing, drawings did not come out as he liked and when he played with his older niece and she drew something it was always clear how much better she was. We mostly played outside and avioded it altogether. So when at 4 years he started school (as we do in the Netherlands) the teacher told me "it was clear he did not know how to hold a pen". He drew a wonderful all-bleu abstract thing when all the other kids tried to draw a house. Anyway, the teacher kept trying, we kept trying, grandparents did. And he now sometimes draws the sun, planets and stick-figures. enter image description here

Same thing with swimming. He didn't care much for the water at first and he certainly didn't like getting water in his eyes. But after 3 years of regular visits to the pool, after baby-swimming and actual swimming lessons, he now enjoys diving in.

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I really like SomeShinyObject's lead by example suggestions. Another angle is to focus on minimizing the fear of failure, by reframing what success looks like. Give him a very small easily achievable goal, praise mightily when he succeeds, then build on that success. I've broken a couple examples down as small as possible, obviously use your own judgement. The key is that each step is a victory and to reinforce that success with praise. The ultimate goal is achievable through consistency and patience.

The coloring example: Clear the table. Ask him to pick his favorite page from the coloring book and take it out of the book so he can focus on it. Ask him what part of the drawing he thinks you guys should color. Agree thats a good place to start. Ask him what color he wants to use. Say something nice about the color he picked. If he's not playing along, make wacky suggestions "Maybe we should color the sky green?". If he participates and colors the part he wanted, tell him he did a great job. Ask him if he wants to color another part. If not, come back to it again later.

The food example: Give him his normal food, but put a bite-sized piece of the new food on his plate. Don't make an issue of him eating it or not. Even if he objects, just keep doing it each meal, eventually he'll accept it. Praise this, move on to the next step, ask him to hold the food in his hand. just touch it, no eating. great job. have him smell it. Accept that as a small victory. Ask him to give it a little lick. eventually have him put a piece in his mouth. chew, swallow, etc. he might spit it out, but he still gets a "good job, thanks for trying it". My kids went from throwing a tantrum when green beans were on their plates to eating them as if it was totally normal in about 3 months. Each additional food gets a little easier.

The balance beam example is a really clear one: Start with a line on the ground. Move up to a beam on the ground. As he becomes comfortable with each increase to challenge, praise him and increase the challenge. If it gets to a point where it's too much, back the challenge off. Or try a slightly different challenge, like instead of increasing the height, put something on the beam he has to step over, or do it blindfolded, do it holding something in one hand.

A final thought, at around 4 years old we noticed our son was strongly averse to certain stimuli. Food textures, noisy chaotic environments, some physical sensations. He was ultimately diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, basically he experiences stimulus at a much higher intensity than other kids. Before we understood this we would get frustrated with him because he would be afraid of things other kids had no problem with. Understanding his condition doesn't solve it for us, but it helped us shifted our perspective and parenting methodologies. Everyone is happier now. I don't presume to diagnose your kid, but if you're seeing a pattern of behavior that deviates from other kids his age (or especially his siblings), it's worth a look.

Edit: Responding to @anongoodnurse, I'm basing this advice off of my own subjectively successful parenting experience. For some kids, I think the fear of failure stems from a sense of being overwhelmed by a big or complex problem. My answer above gives examples of breaking down a big problem (for a kid) into manageable chunks. The praise is just immediate reinforcement when they make some progress towards the ultimate goal, it isn't the solution itself. For a kid that is unsure of themselves, praise gives them a motivational boost to keep at it. As their confidence improves and they become self motivated, dial the praise back. As far as the specific phrasing of praise, I'll leave that to its own question.

  • Not sure how/whom to praise for tolerating a piece of food on a plate. Can you be more specific? I've heard that a problem with praising success is that it makes kids fear failure, thus the saying, "praise the process, not the product/outcome." The education literature supports this (applied properly.) Can you give a source for the efficacy of the method(s) you espouse? It would be much appreciated, and would support your answer. Thanks. – anongoodnurse Jun 21 '18 at 20:39

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