photo: Christy Parry Photography
Let's start off by recognizing the fact that I realize I'm not a certified or licensed child psychologist, doctor...anything. What I do have is tons of experience dealing with kids of all ages through coaching over the last 11 years of my life which, in my opinion, is an extremely unique and all-telling way to observe kid's behaviors. I've seen all types of kids (and their parents) come through my gym doors and I've even learned a ton about myself as well. I've even have had to make adjustments to my coaching style over the years based on how kids have changed with current society (yes, things were different when we grew up but millennials and technology aren't going anywhere, people).
If you know me you know that I was raised by a professional athlete, became a competitive athlete, and continued on to coach competitive athletes; so having an old school no non-sense attitude is kinda my thing. That being said, so much has changed in our world over the last 3 decades that if you don't hop on board and learn how to handle the difference in this generation of kids you will be stuck in the dinosaur ages trying to raise a child based on "the way things were" back in 1984 and that doesn't always make sense.
But I digress...
Thankfully my coaching career has given me a lot of great tools to deal with kids but I wanted to talk especially about building confidence and self-esteem in your little ones. Dan & I have noticed a few things that have been beneficial for us as we have raised Sam. SIDE NOTE: It's really REALLY hard to raise kids in general (hello, Captain Obvious). But it's even harder if you and your partner aren't on the same page when it comes to how you're raising them. A good way to avoid tension on this subject (and confusing the crap out of your kid) is to talk about what characteristics you'd love to see your children learn (because guess what...YOU BOTH are going to have to teach these things to them). What are important behaviors that you'd love for them to have? Kindness? Treating others with respect? Being a helper? Whatever it is, you both need to be living it out IN FRONT of them. It starts with you and your marriage.
So without further ado here are 5 ways we have practiced building confidence in our little guy:
1. Let Them Speak
As a parent your natural instinct is to jump in and intervene when your little one is having trouble sounding out a word or fitting a puzzle piece where it belongs. I see parents finish their kids sentences all the time. It takes a lot of self control but letting them finish those words and sentences without intervention not only gives them a sense of accomplishment, it makes it easier and less frustrating for them to continue figuring things out on their own in the future. It also encourages speech and language development not to mention motor skills and cognitive brain function.
2. Catch Them in the Act
Catch them doing something right and then praise that action. Have you been working on please and thank you? Tell them how proud of them you are when you hear them use it. Accentuate the positive - always. Hundreds of books have been written about this concept and it's a common notion for adults in all walks of life so why wouldn't we apply this to our children? “People who feel good about themselves produce good results and people who produce good results feel good about themselves.” This is the exact same mentality when it comes to athletes. The best athletes perform well because they have gotten great instruction AND positive reinforcement - it's a cyclical process.
3. Give Them Breathing Room
It's easy as adults to underestimate our little ones and their abilities. To think that because they are young they "can't do" certain things. Just look around and you'll find age limits on everything--toys, playgrounds, etc. But you'd be so amazed at what they can do if you just let them try. Here's the thing: you're really doing them a disservice when you say no to something because of an age label or because of your own fears and insecurities. Stop worrying about the mess they are going to make or the fact that you're going to have to clean it up. Let them be more than three feet away from you on the playground. Let them get dirty (that's what bath time is for, right?). They want to try to make their own PB&J? Let them! They won't hurt themselves if you're standing right there supervising (hopefully). This is less about their age limitations and more about getting out of your own parental comfort zone in order to let them expand theirs.
4. Make Them Gritty
Grit is not something that you are born with it is something that you learn over time. It's been defined as a child’s “perseverance and passion for long-term goals,” and it's a better indicator of future earnings and happiness than either IQ or talent. Today’s mounting research on grit suggests that your child’s ability to work hard, endure struggle, fail, and try again may be the key to determining his or her long-term success and happiness. I truly believe that parents have the ability to start teaching their children how to become gritty even from the very beginning. Don't allow your Alcatraz-level of protection to rob them of the experience of making mistakes and learning from them. Allowing them to fail teaches them to be resilient! Give them age appropriate responsibility. I think one mistake parents make is getting into rhythms that are "just easier" and not allowing their children to learn by picking up some of the slack. A two year old can pick up their toys. A three year old can carry their own bag/snack/shoes/etc. As a coach, I've heard young women who were on their way to college ask their parents to bring their water bottle to their game and sometimes even their uniform or games shoes because they forgot them. As a former athlete this blew my mind! Because of this, one of the rules I enforced on my teams was that players were not allowed to request anything from their parents. Their gear was their responsibility and it was their job to remember to bring everything they needed to every game (ie: age appropriate responsibility). What you're doing is giving kids a sense of autonomy and that magically creates responsible humans which in turn creates grit and a sense of pride and self worth.
5. Hug Your Kids
Affection is directly correlated with positive self esteem. Show affection as much as possible--even when disciplining--by giving them a hug and letting them know that although they made a mistake you still love them and believe they can make good choices. Knowing you are loved fosters a sense of self worth and confidence as well as decreases anxiety in young kids. It's a simple formula: lots of hugs = self confidence and lots of other good things.
I'd love to hear some things you're doing to foster self confidence in your little ones! Follow me and leave me a comment on my Instagram @theeverydayexchange!
And remember - you're doing a fantastic job!!