"Go on, just two more steps. You can do it."
"No. I don't want to."
"Come on. I'm sure you climb higher than this on the playground. I want you to at least get to a place on the wall where you are higher than me."
"I want to come down."
"What are you worried about? You know you are attached to a rope and you have your whole team looking after you."
"I know. I want to come down."
"Two more steps, come on"
And so on and so forth. This is an interaction I have weekly with children I look after as part of my job as an activity stranger. What I have described is not a conversation with a scared child who has a genuine fear of heights.
This is a child who has come across an obstacle and doesn't have any experience with trying things that feel difficult.
Quitting is trending
I work with kids between the ages of eight and eleven. It is a very important developmental period as they are so impressionable and can still learn new things very quickly. They are just starting to become self conscious and wanting to fit in with what their friends are doing.
It makes me really sad to see kids who seem to find it difficult to try new things. Because I see so many children it is hard not to imagine what the home situation is and who rules the roost.
Modern families come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes but regardless of the exact make up, every child needs clear boundaries to keep them safe and enable them to figure out what their own limits are in a productive way. The kind of quitting behaviour I see on such a regular basis makes me question how often this is the case.
Looking in the mirror
I am not a parent. I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult it is to make decisions for another person and of course most people do the absolute best they can. Instead of being critical and judgemental about situations I don't know enough about I am left considering what my own reaction is to being told no by God.
I have suffered disappointments in my life, like anyone. I didn't make every sports team I wanted to; I haven't been hired for every job I've applied for; I don't own every possession I've ever wished for. It would be impossible for every plan I've concocted to come to fruition, there's simply not time. I am only one person after all.
Unfortunately the no's sometimes seem to come in a barrage with the yes's arriving far less frequently. Disappointment is not a pleasant feeling but it shouldn't be an immobilising one. The ability to pick yourself up and try something else or go back and try it again is a very difficult thing to do but is an essential life skill. This is what I try and encourage in the children that I get to work with.
Practice makes perfect
It's not about making it to the top of the climbing wall, it's about acknowledging that something is difficult and doing it anyway. From what I can tell it gets easier the more you do it. Your reactions to certain circumstances can become habitual. You can train yourself to give up or you can cultivate a different response that sees the challenge as just that- a challenge.
God has presented me with plenty of opportunities to practice this in my own life. It's not always easy but I can say with confidence that I have learnt to be excited by things that appear a bit scary because I know they are learning opportunities, likely to produce the kind of stories worth telling.
Helen McIntosh is a Kiwi living in England, a 22 year old trying to create more than she consumes. Writing is a way of banishing any circulating thoughts to make way for the new.
Helen McIntosh previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/helen-mcintosh.html