Earn a STEM badge, embark on an outdoor adventure, advocate for a better world—for Girl Scouts, the possibilities are endless! But what if your girl isn’t quite so gung-ho about embracing those exciting challenges? While other girls are pushing their personal boundaries at the Boundary Waters, your girl is more than happy to set up camp in her comfort zone. What’s a parent or troop leader to do? Read on for some tips to guide your girl to conquer her fears and unleash her inner risk-taker.
Meet them where they are
Every girl is different and with their unique personalities come unique anxieties and fears. Two girls in my troop love to swim. Dive for rings in the deep end? Sure thing! Our other girl, though, is a bit more wary of the water. Practice breathing underwater? No, thanks. When we ask girls to try something new, we should also remember that their starting lines aren’t all the same. Something that’s easy-peasy for one girl could be insurmountable for another. Adjust your expectations and goals to meet each girl where she is. So, for the fishes in our troop, we cheered when they learned how to do backflips underwater, and for our tentative swimmer, we cheered when she went into the pool for the first time without her floaties.
It’s tempting to offer girls a well-intentioned push to just jump in feet-first, but this tactic can easily backfire if girls aren’t emotionally ready to tackle a challenge. Studies show that a little anxiety can be manageable (And even motivating!), but too much anxiety can be incapacitating. However, you can help them eventually overcome their anxiety of trying something new by taking it slow. Like the five steps it takes to earn a badge, you can make an experience less daunting by breaking into smaller, less intense tasks. Maybe your girl is really curious about camp, but has never spent the night away from home. Start with a sleepover at a friend or relative’s house, sign up for Adult + Me camp weekend, and then work your way up to resident camp.
Keep it girl-led
New experiences can be terrifying because we have no control over the outcome. What if I try something new and totally embarrass myself? What if I try something new and I’m not good at it? Let girls know that this new experience is a challenge by choice. They get to decide how much to push themselves, and what their personal goals will look like. Sometimes just reinforcing their autonomy can help girls get over that initial reluctance and give something a go. That being said, Low Wires, Hoops, and Trapeze anyone?
Remind them of their success stories
Use past successes to help girls manage their current hesitations. This particular activity might be new to them, but the act of overcoming a hurdle is something they’ve done before. Remind them of something difficult they did in the past—remember when they first learned how to horseback ride? Or dribble a soccer ball? How did they feel in the beginning? Probably pretty similar to how they’re feeling now. Then ask them what happened at the end, when they figured out how to take the reins or made their first goal. It felt pretty sweet, right? They’ve done it before, so they can do it again.
Whatever the obstacle, Girl Scouts provides all girls with a safe space to try new things and develop the courage, confidence, and character to meet those challenges head-on.
Lily Yu – Lily is a Volunteer Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. Though she wasn’t a Girl Scout growing up, Lily is making up for lost time by leading her daughter’s Daisy troop (who’s more excited to work on petals and Journeys—it could go either way!). In her free time, she enjoys going for long walks, reading, and spending time with her family.