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The Informed Parent

The Power Of Stepping Outside Of Your Comfort Zone

by Catherine S. Tolnai, M.A.T.
Published on Jul. 25, 2011

So many of us relish in the comfort zones we create in our lives. Whether it’s the slew of schedules and appointments that rule our workdays or soccer games and family get-togethers that rule our weekends, we tend to find comfort in the day to day routines of our lives. How often, then, do you push yourself out of these self-created comfort zones? Or better yet, how often do you ask your children to step outside of their comfort zones? I challenge you to find ways this summer to help your children take risks and try new activities because it is through these decisions that true, organic self-confidence and growth is achieved. 

My regular teaching schedule during the school year is made up of four periods of seventh or eighth grade history and an additional course in middle school leadership. The other hours in my days are filled with administrative work, planning for my lessons, grading, communicating with parents and students, and running student council programming. Most days I come home wiped out and “comfortably exhausted,” which is a good fit for the production-driven me.

This summer has afforded me an opportunity to teach five classes a day to students entering grades one through eight in the fall. Never have I worked so hard in the classroom. Even though the curricular demands for expertise are far different, I am needed so much more. Elementary students taking creative courses like Edible Art and Imaginative Classroom Technology are far more “needy” than the independent-minded teenagers I am used to. Needless to say, I am amazed at the variety of learners in my midst and the most amazing ways that the brains of young children work so creatively and abundantly. I am 100% Uncomfortable, and I’m feeling better and better each day.

I have been spending my days getting to know each child better and also extending myself to truly observe the changes occurring in these children. Summer is typically associated with fun, adventure, and relaxation. So, I am trying to achieve the balance of adventure and learning in my summer classes. Sarah, an entering third grader, couldn’t even turn on a computer screen without repeatedly asking, “Is this the right button?” back in June. She was nervous and shy to try out the creative websites I had found, usually watching what her peers were doing before clicking on anything. She was completely OUT of her comfort zone, and she was unsure about her first steps.

Perhaps it’s the middle school edge in me or maybe just my teaching style, but I decided that I would nudge her to start taking some risks. So, I suggested a different website for her to try one day, talked to her about her interests, and got her on a totally different program for a few class periods. I took the time to find out where she was comfortable and used that space to push her to the next level.

In no time at all, she bloomed. Now she not only turns her computer on with ease, but she opens a Word document, writes a poem, saves it to a folder on her flash drive, and brings it to me to upload to our website all on her own. She walks a little taller and is my first volunteer to help other students who need support. I’ve reflected on Sarah’s growth and can safely say that she has discovered a strength that might not have been there weeks ago. I believe that pushing Sarah out of her comfort zone of needing reassurance and hand-holding has paid off.

So, where does that leave you, the parent who wants these enriching experiences for your children? I have been reminded these past few weeks that expecting the change is the first step to seeing the change. Had I empathized with Sarah and thought, “Oh, it’s summertime. Sarah shouldn’t be stressed right now. I’ll let her go at her own pace,” then perhaps she would have still had a good time. But, taking the time to acknowledge the potential, supporting the first steps, and helping her see that she is capable of more has planted a small seed of strength and self-confidence in Sarah that I can only hope will carry over to the next school year.

We don’t remember all of our school lessons and textbook chapters, but we remember those teachers who seemed to help us learn something new about ourselves and believed in us. Your child needs the same attention at home this summer. I hope this reflection can give each of you some ideas for starting points. Trying a new sport or board game, cooking, completing new chores, taking up a new hobby, even reading a different genre of book--each of these are small chances for your child to exercise decision-making and accomplish a new goal. By expecting and supporting this risk-taking, you are showing your children the beauty of the process every step of the way and the power of stepping outside of your comfort zone.

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