Raising Confident Children Takes Confidence
It takes confidence to raise a confident child. Sometimes parents can see a brief glimpse of their child in the future. In a split second we can see someone in a small body with more confidence than ourselves; a stronger, more capable and compassionate person than we could ever hope to be. Sometimes parents wonder how much we really contribute to the inevitable development of a child. We cherish and care for our children, but they are given their own paths to follow. That can be a comfort, but it leaves us wondering where to put our conviction…
Babies are Born With Confidence
When our children are infants, we keep them warm and safe. We solve all their problems and meet every need. They learn trust and unending love. Babies are in a Zone of Comfort, which is absolutely as it should be.
Then babies learn to move around…
Babies develop opinions different than our own, and begin to move in and out of what is called the Stretch Zone where they start to deliberately build skills and gather confidence. They crawl toward the stairs, play in the dog water, and destroy their brother’s homework. Our job is to understand the Baby-Heart’s needs and desires, and make them happen: set up safe and unlimited crawling areas, sparkling water play, and joyful paper crumbling! We try our best not to tell our baby “no” to any experience. Experience, after all, is how they learn.
Very young children have a natural degree of confidence and learn new things joyfully. Unless we make them fearful by over protecting. Our children do remarkable things in such a short time. They walk and talk after taking many falls and making many mistakes. By age eight, children ride bikes, read books, swim, and have amazing dreams about their possibilities.
Young children embody confidence…
Confidence Gets Shakier Around Age 8
Let’s fast forward to children who have grades, sports, and peer groups. Children begin to compare themselves to others and self-doubt enters their decision making. They worry how they look to others, and sometimes decide not to try new or hard things to avoid judgement. They suddenly want to stay in their Comfort Zone more often than the Stretch Zone.
*** We can help them with that…Whether your role is a parent, a teacher, or a coach, teach children how to love the Stretch Zone again.
Counter every negative thought with three positive ones. If you are in a position to give feedback, be sure to notice positives as well as negatives. Sometimes we don’t bring up positives because they don’t need to be improved, but the child needs to know you noticed. Be specific with all feedback so that it will be meaningful and helpful.
Some children will dwell on their mistakes and have a hard time letting them go. Watch for that, and help them learn a more positive pattern of self-talk. For instance say, “Every time you catch yourself thinking about that last strike out, stop and also remember your good catch in left field, how you encouraged the youngest team mate during practices, and how you enjoyed going to the batting cages with Grandpa over the weekend.”
Eventually, they will re-train their brains to think in a more positive and confident way.
Break goals into very small attainable skills. Whether the challenge is academic, physical, or social, it can feel overwhelming. Make a concrete plan of action together with a measurable outcome. Take one day at a time, and as unfamiliar or uncomfortable skills are improved and conquered, they can be added to the Comfort Zone, and new challenges can be taken on.
The goal is to enlarge the Comfort Zone by mastering the challenges and new experiences in the Stretch Zone. Optimum growth happens when we feel that we can struggle and not feel judged or put down when we fail. Confidence grows through working through the right amount of discomfort.
If adults shield children from all discomfort, they also extinguish their confidence.
Learn to recognize the signs that your child is entering the Panic Zone. There is a third zone where we panic or get overwhelmed, and it is different for everyone. Learning shuts down until we feel safe again. Obviously, what scares our child may not seem scary at all to us. It does not help to force children to learn before they are ready. It does not help to discount or argue about their fear. It does not help to point to other children younger than them who can do it, or tell them that we used to feel the same way when we were their age. It is tempting to try talk them out of it, but does that ever really work??
Almost all parents have tough decisions to make when a child wants to quit or says the dreaded, “I can’t!” We want them to fulfill their commitments, and learn to work through their fear or frustrations. This is a fine line, and there is not a clear answer that a book or expert can give us that fits our individual child. We are that expert, and we have to follow our gut.
My best advice is to sit down and calmly make a list together of pros and cons. Model intelligent decision making.
Ask and say things like: You are really stretching yourself right now, and I know it’s hard. Which part don’t you like? How could we make it better? What might you learn if you stayed with it? Could it get more fun once this hard part got better? What can I do to help? Can we agree to give it a little more time? Reassure them with facts and acceptance. Then…
Listen. Respect your child’s informed choices.
Make sure your children feel valued for their character, not their appearance. This can be especially important advice for our girls. It is little wonder that our daughters struggle with what they see in the mirror, beginning around the age of 8 years old! Messages from birth tell them they are, “So pretty in pink!” then the media begins telling them they are, “Not pretty/skinny/sassy/sexy enough!”
Girls are then expected to basically be perfect: cooperative, get good grades and stay out of trouble. This expectation of obedient character does not bode well for the confident young woman who will eventually compete and negotiate for jobs and salaries that they have worked just as hard as boys to qualify for. If we want competitive girls who are powerful, and confident enough to push back, we can’t raise them to be sweet and pretty helpers. Can we?
Raising a confident and mentally tough girl who can stand up and express herself with intelligence and poise is going to take another level of parenting. Get ready to be practiced on and love it. If you want more food for thought about combating the media and Disney Princess Culture for little girls, I recommend reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. (I love her blog as well).
Parents Have a Stretch Zone Too
Parenting is fluid and requires quick decisions and confidence. Often it feels like flying-by-the-seat-of-our-pants, spur-of-the-moment, crossing-our-fingers type decisions.
Know this: The Best Parenting is in the Stretch Zone. We fall, we make mistakes, we learn, laugh, and know better next time. Remember to think of three positive parenting thoughts for every one negative. Break your parenting goals down into manageable steps. Take on and welcome parenting challenges. Let your child see you make parenting mistakes, and especially what you do about them. Don’t let others judge your parenting or put you down. You are you, not them.
Just like you tell your child.