Confidence The Old Fashioned Way

Confidence The Old Fashioned Way

Daily, parents tell me that they want to help their kids develop self-confidence, a quest as old as time.  At the risk of raising some eyebrows let me posit that many (but not all) parents have lost track of how to get their kids’ confidence “from here to there”.  Prior to the mid-twentieth century parents seemed to understand that self-confidence developed only from standing on one’s own two feet and personally learning to cope with challenge and adversity.

Over the last half-century, however, the ways in which parents have attempted to engender self-confidence in their kids has gradually changed, and not necessarily for the better.  Today we’re often more concerned about how our children are feeling than about whether or not they are building self-discipline, accountability or resilience; all key ingredients in self-confidence.  Here are some of the things I see parents doing, with the best of intentions, that don’t lead to increased self-confidence in their kids:

  • Arranging which classroom teacher their children have in order to shield them from those who are overly strict, or less-than-kind, or too demanding.

  • Picking their kids’ play dates and closely monitoring them.

  • Helping their children with their homework (and sometimes doing it for them) to protect their kids from the pain of receiving a poor grade.

  • Intervening when their children aren’t chosen for a sports team or an AP class.

  • Allowing them to drop activities because they turn out to be too hard or to require too much effort.

  • Praising their kids too effusively and not always in response to a job-well-done or, frankly, to real talent.

  • Keeping their kids from suffering the consequences for poor behavior or lack of effort, believing that holding them accountable is too harsh and will make kids feel badly about themselves.

  • Generally shielding their children from stress and failure.

The good news is that when I explain to moms and dads the following guidelines for developing self-confidence in their kids, they are often relieved (because it is makes good sense):

  • From a young age introduce your children to new experiences and activities.  Doing so will help them readily adapt to change.

  • Expose your kids to new people and to a variety of children their age.  This will help them develop social skills and learn to form new relationships.

  • In an age-appropriate way allow your kids to experience the difficult classroom teacher, coach or social interaction.  Rather than jumping in to fix the situation talk with your child about how they might handle it. If they are able to do so without your intervention it will give their belief in themselves a big boost!

  • Be realistic and balanced in praising your kids and their accomplishments.  If you over-state their achievements or talents they’ll be unprepared for the feedback they get from the rest of the world, leaving them confused and crest-fallen.

  • Be available to help your kids with homework, projects and other activities but avoid jumping in to do or fix it for them.  Instead, encourage them to think the situation through themselves by asking questions such as: “what are you missing”, or “how could you approach this differently”?

  • Finally, gradually allow them to experience adversity.  Facing difficult situations (which are age-appropriate) can help your children begin to develop tools that will get through the tough times for the rest of their lives.

Truth be told, previous generations understood and practiced these principles.  Even in an age when we constantly embrace what’s new, sometimes the old-fashioned way still works best!