The most valuable gift we can give to our children is self-confidence. Self-confidence allows children and adult to try new things, try harder, be a good friend, conquer fears and more. But how do we instill this confidence in our children? We love them.
Loving our children does not mean enabling them. It does not mean hovering over them to make sure they never get hurt. It means loving them enough to discipline them when they do something wrong, to pick them up and brush them off when they fall to put band-aids on boo-boos and saying NO too. It means hugging them, playing with them and letting them be a part of your life.
People, from infancy, desire to have their basic needs met: Food, Water, Touch, Safety and Sleep. This is how we begin developing our self awareness. We cry when we are hungry, etc. So, lets talk about each of these things.
Food and water, we are fortunate enough to be able to provide these things to our children. Some people have a hard time providing even this most basic luxury for their children. While we are lucky, we are presented with the challenge of determining how much and how often. We help our children develop healthy eating habits. As with most things, we should model good eating. Read Helping Children Try New Foods for more info.
Touch… sounds simple. There have been so many studies on the importance of touch and the perils of depriving a person of touch. “To touch can be to give life,” said Michelangelo, and he was absolutely right. Neuroscientist, Edmund Rolls, has shown that touch activates the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion. When speaking with your child put your hand on his/her shoulder, the top of his/her head, the forearm. Before bed and whenever possible, hug your child. Like body language, touch is an unspoken way to convey your thoughts. Make it a priority. Be aware of it’s power.
Safety… again… sound simple. It is, but sometimes we forget to make sure children feel safe. We are so worried about their safety that we sometimes burden them with the technicalities. We worry them unnecessarily about being snatched, falling, getting hurt, choking.. you know what I am saying. Instead learn to say “you would be safer on the floor”, “I like having you next to me, it is safer”, “Tie your shoes so you are safe”. Accidents happen, it is life. We have to let children make their own mistakes. Yes, we can warn them, but let’s try not to weigh them down. Children need to learn to try things on their own. If they fall… or fail. They should feel safe coming to us and finding comfort. If a child is running and a parent says “you’re going to fall…” and he/she does… how much comfort does that child expect? If you say “walking is safer” or “stay clear of the curb” and he/she falls.. it is easier to find comfort. Next time, they will find a better way. Remember fear is the opposite of self-confidence.
Sleep… sleep is so important for strong bodies and minds. Give your toddler/preschool child the opportunity to sleep at least 12-14 hours and your 4-12 year old a good 10-12 hours each day. Trouble getting you toddler/preschooler to sleep? Read this.
Once your child’s most basic needs are met you can begin effectively instilling self confidence. Be a good role model. Allow your child to trust you unconditionally. Try not to tell your child “I am going to leave without you” when he/she is dragging. Let your child feel that you will never leave him.her.
Give your child choices. Being able to choose what he/she is going to wear makes him/her fell good about him/herself. Choosing is so important. I will write more on that next week. For now, think about choices you can live with. Allow your child to decide the things that matter to him/her… do you want green or pink toothpaste? Your child has to brush – but now he/she has a little power.
Listen. Really listen to your child. Ask questions and listen to his/her answers. Your child is so much smarter than you think. Let him/her tell you his/her take on the world. He/she has his/her whole life to be wrong… so if your child believes that “chicken slides down a slide in her neck” embrace it! Write it down. What a wonderful way to look at the world!
Very importantly, know you are your child’s guardrail… he/she will bounce off the guardrail… climb it, jump it… skateboard on the edge. Your guardrails are rules, boundries… they will test the boundries. We all do! Be consistent with your responses to this mishaps. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill… but don’t under-react either. When a child breaks a rule or misbehaves ask yourself WHY…(I will post a whole Positive Discipline article). Decide if they intended to misbehave. Then, choose your battles and stick to your guns. Make sure the punishment fits the crime. Be firm and kind. Tell your child you love him/her AND you know he/she can do better. Make sure they understand the rules and the consequences. Your child will learn to respect your fairness.