After publishing my post on parenthood on March 31st, 2013, I received a request from one of my friends to dedicate a post to how we, as mothers and/or parents in general, can help build and instill self-confidence and independence in our children. I cannot claim to be a professional in this regard but I am a mother with 5 years of experience and so I can speak based on that.
Needless to say, every child is different. Children have different personalities, characters, temperaments, preferences and interests, amongst other things, even if they are identical twins. Consequently, what works on one child may not work on another. However, there are certain guidelines that apply, in principal, to all children. It is up to you, the parent, to tweak and mold them to make them fit your own child. Ample consideration dedicated to the planning of the application of these guidelines will save you a great deal of time, effort and possible frustration when it’s time to actually do so. Personally, dealing with my children is like dealing with children from two completely different galaxies!
Let’s jump right to it, here are the top 20 doable and practical ways you, as a parent, can help instill self-confidence and independence in your children:
1- Listen to your child. Let them know that they are important and what they have to say is interesting to you, even if it’s something “silly” that you are hearing for the umpteenth time! Realizing their own self-worth helps build their self-confidence.
2- Talk to them as if they were adults. Don’t dumb down your speech. In our house, we never ask our children if they want to go “wee wee”, for example, we ask them if they need to use the bathroom. Children can see how you talk to each other as adults and can recognize you changing tones with them. Don’t do it, they’ll appreciate it and will want to behave like adults too.
3- Give them small, age-appropriate chores around the house. If you want them to be independent then you have to trust them to do certain things on their own. Our 4 year-old makes her own bed and helps clear the table. Our 2 year-old is in charge of cleaning up his toys and putting them back in the right place after he’s done. Don’t set them up for failure though by giving them daunting tasks.
4- Don’t let them quit. When they attempt to do something and fail, encourage them to try and try again until they get it right. Don’t jump in immediately and rescue them. If you see their repeated failed attempts heading towards anger and frustration then offer a hint or a helping hand but don’t finish the task yourself.
5- Praise them when they do well. Most of the time we only pay attention to what our children do wrong and we reprimand them. It’s part of raising our children, correct, but often times we tend to take whatever good they do for granted! That’s one of the worst mistakes a parent can make. Let them know that they did well, praise them and show them how much you appreciate their efforts. If anything, make a bigger deal of their successes than their mistakes.
6- Don’t talk about them with anyone in a way that would hurt their feelings, even your partner. Do you think a laugh is worth breaking your child’s spirit? Be respectful of them and think about what your child will feel and think if (or when) they hear you. If there is something that you just must reiterate, then do so when you are confident that your child will not hear you and make sure the person on the receiving end knows that you telling them is the end of the story, no fun should be made about it ever again. Again, it’s preferable that you just keep your child’s mishaps to yourself.
7- Have realistic expectations. A child is just that, a child! Don’t expect them to be perfect or understand right from wrong the way you do. Having realistic expectations will prevent you from scrutinizing every little move your children make and will give them some room for freedom.
8- Give them choices whenever you can. Freedom of choice helps develop self-worth, self-confidence, character and independence in children. The choices you give them should be controlled though. Instead of just asking them what they want to wear, pick two outfits that you approve of and ask them which one they’d like to wear. That way, you know that whatever choice they make won’t end up hurting them one way or another.
9- When it comes to little things, have them make the decision. If they’re painting a picture don’t insist that the tree’s leaves have to be green and the bark brown. If they want a tree with purple leaves and blue bark let them go ahead and paint it that way. It’s just a picture, not the end of the world. Besides, you never know, maybe you’ll discover new things about your child when you see what choices they make when given the opportunity.
10 – Whenever you can, play with your child. When you play with them you are letting them know that they are important and they are worth your time. You already keep telling them that you are “busy”, so they know that you prioritize and do the important things first. When you tell them it’s time for you to play with them, they’ll realize that they are at the top of your priority list. That will give them a strong boost and will make them happier than anything else in the world.
11- Set your child up for success. Other than teaching your child the skills they need to succeed in life, which should be one of your primary goals when raising your child anyway, make sure that they realize their own strengths as well. You can do so, very simply, by putting their accomplishments up for display! Since our children our very young, we put up their art work and any distinguished notes from their teachers up on a designated wall. Hopefully, when they grow up a bit we can kick things up a notch. Think along the lines of “The Wall of Gaylord” in “Meet the Fockers”, seriously 😀
12- Be their safety net. Let them know that you trust them enough to venture out in the world but that home and your embrace, are always going to be the safe haven that they can always come back to. Knowing that they have that will make them feel secure enough to try new things and not worry about possibly failing.
13- Help them find their identity. Your child will be in search for his/her autonomous identity from day one of their existence. Help them find it and make it a good one! Their “identity” usually ends up being a label they carry and truly believe in, make sure it’s something like “smart”, “kind” or “talented” rather than “prejudiced”, “loud” or “bully”.
14- Try to sit down with your child and discuss their feelings. Bottling up feelings isn’t healthy, not even for adults, so encouraging them to talk about them and validating those feelings can make them feel more secure and self-confident. Not to mention you having the opportunity to spot potential problems and issues that can be dealt with early on.
15- Hold them accountable! This isn’t an obvious one, but the only way your child will be able to take responsibility for the good things they do and any other successes they have is by being able to take responsibility for their mistakes and failures! If they keep blaming other factors or people for their mishaps, they will never gain the self-confidence necessary to stand on their feet and try again after failing.
16- Get involved and screen your child’s friends! No, I’m not asking you to be a control freak, just make sure that their friends are not destructive, bring them down or bully them.
17- Encourage your child to explore and try new things. Make sure they are safe of course, but let them off the leash. This will encourage independence and once they discover something “new”, that will boost their self-confidence.
18- Be a role model. Practice self-confidence and independence yourself. Children learn by watching more than anything else. They’ll repeat what they see rather than what they are told. So use that to help them, let them see you be the kind of person you want them to grow up to be.
19- Work hard and let your child see that. Hard work pays off and you can demonstrate that early on. Enforcing work-ethic is very important for the development of your child’s future self.
20- Your children believe everything you say, especially during the early years of their lives. The way you see them will eventually become the way they see themselves! If you tell your child he’s naughty, he will project that kind of behavior. If you tell your child she’s smart, she will project that kind of behavior. Be careful what you say to your children and be careful what you call them!