Raising confident children in an uncertain world can seem like an overwhelming responsibility. There are those who choose not to even have children because the pressure seems too great. The world is a dark and evil place by nature and it only seems to get worse with time. My take on this very real threat is not one of defense, but of offense. It is my responsibility as a mother to raise children who are equipped to be a light in a darkened world. My children are still very young, but it’s during these early years that the foundations of their lives are laid. I will take my own experience as well as what I have learned from my own parents and other wise individuals who have successfully raised world changing adults, and share with you some ways you can raise a confident, secure child.
Show them love
This is first on the list because it is most important. If we do nothing else right as parents, let’s love our children well. Let there be no doubt in their minds that they are unconditionally loved. When they disobey or talk back, discipline them. Demand respect, but show it right back to them. Discipline isn’t about humiliation, but guidance. Setting boundaries for your child by letting them know what you expect from them and what you will not tolerate, is showing them love. After being disciplined, your child needs that assurance that even though you were upset with their behavior, that it didn’t change your love for them. Make sure that after any difficult time of discipline, it is followed up quickly by a hug or explanation of why they must be disciplined. A child without clear boundaries is left uncertain of your love for them. Discipline is not only used to correct behavior, but when done properly, helps the child to feel secure.
Let them fall
When you give birth to a child, your instinct it to protect them from any and all harm. This little life depends on you! For the entire time it is a helpless infant, you’re able to control their surroundings pretty easily. Once they become mobile, the real work begins. Trying to babyproof everything and keep them from any real or imagined danger is exhausting!
Here’s the reality: you cannot, no matter how hard you try, keep your child from getting hurt. So, within reason, let them fall down. Don’t overreact to every injury! Brush them off, encourage them to keep going. Let them climb the tree, the rock wall, the back of the couch. Let them make that big jump from the top bunk to the pile of pillows on the ground. If they feel confident that they can do it, and you’re close by to supervise, let them try. Ask yourself, “what’s the worst thing that (realistically) could happen? If the answer is something mild like bumping their head or scraping an elbow, let it happen. They’ll survive!
Teach them that it’s okay to fail
Pain is part of life. Failure is part of life and they need to know that it’s ok. The way we teach our children to cope with potentially dangerous situations on the play ground or a scraped knee, will carry over into how they handle life. If you don’t make it a big deal, they won’t either. The small stuff won’t get in their way and they’ll be stronger for it. We do our best to empower our children to go beyond their comfort zone. Maybe it means my hands are ready and waiting to catch them as they swing their way across the monkey bars. But that feeling they get when they do something that scares them is a building block for confidence.
If your child has a scary experience, like falling in the pool when they can’t swim or falling off a moving swing, encourage them to try again. Get them back in the pool safely with you or a float, get them back on that swing holding more tightly. The sooner you can replace that moment of fear with a moment of courage, the more confident they will become in their abilities.
This one was and is hard sometimes for me to recognize. Children grow so quickly and before you know it, they can dress themselves! Maybe they don’t need you to fix their snack anymore, or put their shoes on for them. As often as you can, let them try to do it themselves. They want to anyway! It’s nice to feel needed as a parent, but it’s so important for your child’s development and self image, that they do things on their own. Let them do it wrong or badly. Their shoes are on the wrong feet? If they’re comfortable, let it be. They made their bed and it looks terrible? Leave it. They’ll get better. Praise them for their efforts. We all have to start somewhere.
There’s nothing more crushing to the human spirit than to be criticized for trying something for the first time and getting it wrong. That’s not to say you can’t lovingly correct them or show them the right way. But be careful with your words. Doing everything for your child cripples them and sends the message that you don’t feel confident that they can do it themselves. Your estimation of their abilities translates into their own.
Many people would term me a “sheltered child.” I know some people look at that term as something negative, but I am so incredibly grateful for that sheltering. There are things your child does not need to know about. Children are on a “need to know” basis when it comes to information about the world we live in. Striking the balance between being wise as serpents and innocent as doves is not as black and white as I wish it were. It may depend on the child and their personality. Your children need to know about the dangers that may face them in the world at some point. But you don’t need to go into great detail and fill your child with so much fear that they have difficulty functioning normally.
Monitor the things they see on TV and the internet, hold off on their own cell phone or device as long as possible. When they do have their own devices, make sure you monitor those and check their recent activity and viewing history. It’s not a trust issue when it’s your child. It’s an issue of being the parent and protecting your child against dangers they know nothing about.
Be mindful of the friends your child has and the time they spend with those friends. The people we surround ourselves with have a greater influence on us than anything else. If there’s a child with an attitude or mouth that you don’t want to see duplicated in your own child, limit their time around that person. Don’t feel pressured by what their parents will think of you or hurting the other child’s feelings. You don’t have to be rude, but you do have every right to protect your child’s influences while you have the ability to do so.
Listening to your child is nearly as important as loving them well. In fact, listening is a way to show them love. It’s so easy to feel as though we need to do all the talking. We are the ones with all the knowledge to impart to our child! We have limited time and so much they need to know. Listening to how your child feels and then responding not reacting builds a mutual trust between you. When your child knows that they can come to you with anything and you can keep a level head, they are more likely to share the really difficult things with you. You won’t have to pry or snoop or fear that they aren’t telling you something. When open and honest communication is learned early on, it becomes a way of life for you and your child.
I do my best now to thank my 4 year old when she’s honest with me about something she did wrong. She still receives the consequences of her actions, but I let her know how very proud of her that I am for telling mommy the truth. It can be easy to react to a situation, like a squabble between siblings. Taking the time to listen and discover what’s really going on can be the difference between a child knowing, “mom and dad really care about why i’m upset” or “mom and dad just want me to be quiet and good.” Listening to your child lets them know that what they say has value and that you recognize it.
Be the Example
It matters much more what you show your children than what you tell them. If you want your child to be a confident, successful adult, you need to first be one. Modeling behaviors of honesty, kindness, integrity, morality, etc. must first be present in you before you can expect to see them in your child. The old adage, “do as I say, not as I do,” doesn’t really work. When you preach and preach a concept at your child and then turn around and do the opposite, you lose all credibility. You can lecture and lecture all you want. You can say all the “right” things. But if your actions don’t line up with what you’re saying, it won’t matter.
If you constantly harp on your children to pick up after themselves , but you leave a trail of mess behind you, what good does that do? If you tell your child, “You can do anything you set your mind to do.” But then you turn around and second guess yourself and your own potential, you send a conflicting message. You can read my post on Learning to Dream Again for ways to encourage your children as well as yourself in the pursuit of dreams and goals.
Let Them Go
The hardest way of all to raise confident children, is to let them go. When the time comes for them to venture out on their own, you should have full confidence that they are ready – and so should they. Spend time as they get older giving them more and more independence while still under your watchful eye. Let them make their own doctors appointments, order their own food at a restaurant, pay a small bill, earn money, etc. Holding on tightly to them as they try to pry your fingers away only makes them feel less secure and sure of themselves.
I have what feels like a long way to go before that day comes, with a 2 and 4 year old. But I know the time will go so much quicker than I would like. Even thinking about my 4 year old starting kindergarten next year fills me with emotion. But for her sake, I’ll keep that on the inside. I’ll show her how confident I am in her abilities and tell her about all the wonderful friends she’ll make and experiences she’ll have. And even though I’ll be uncertain about everything she might face on her own and question whether I’ve prepared her enough, she won’t know it. She’ll walk confidently into that classroom and she will thrive. So can each of your children – in kindergarten and in life.