Though my 7-year-old son is bright and outgoing, he is reluctant to try a new skill. He will wait until he is certain he can master it.  As an infant, he refused to roll over. He was evaluated and placed in Occupational Therapy, where we were told he “didn’t want to roll over.”  His school sent him to a reading specialist in first grade. It was a struggle to get him to try to read, but he suddenly developed the skill and is able to read at or above grade level.  This reluctance to try a new skill bleeds over into all aspects of his life – swimming, bike riding, etc. Do you have a suggestion for helping him?

By the age of 7, a child can think about – and appreciate – his own special way of learning, of facing challenges, and of overcoming them. If you and his teachers help him to accept that style – careful, thoughtful and comprehensive – he may approach new tasks with greater confidence: “I know how I learn. My own way has worked before. I know it will work for me again.”Your child knows quite accurately when to try a new task. If pushed before then, he may fail, and such failures may make him more hesitant about new challenges.  This maneuver may help you both: Instead of pushing him to try a new skill, say to him, “I bet this is another thing you’ll get the hang of once you’re ready.  ”You might add, “So don’t rush. There’s plenty of time. Whenever you’re ready, it will come together for you.” Easing the pressure – on him and on you – may make help him to approach a new task sooner.

Many children are hesitant to take on new challenges. Often, this is a matter of temperament, which neither parent nor child can change. But if a child can learn to accept his temperament – partly through parental acceptance – he can make the most of it.

Parents should also be reassured that the forces of development are powerful. The brain pushes ahead to create new wiring, new potential and new capacities that a child is likely to test when ready. Peer pressure to perform, and the wish to please and to succeed, are powerful, too.

Recently we heard an accomplished medical student/musician reminisce about how embarrassed she was at age 8 to ride a bicycle with training wheels. Even 15 years later, she remembered when and where she decided to learn to ride without them. She was tired of feeling embarrassed, and she was ready – in her own time.

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