As a child, I lacked self-confidence, and even though I think I turned out fairly well as an adult and am happy with my life, I often wonder how different my life would have been if I had been a little more confident and courageous. For instance, I graduated as valedictorian from my high school with a straight-A average, and yet I was only brave enough to attend my first three years of college at a school in my home state that didn’t have particularly high standards for admission. If I were to do it over again, I would have applied to Ivy League schools and to universities situated in places that I’d always wanted to go! How I would have loved to study overseas. Who knows what I’d be doing today if I’d followed that path. And there are so many other opportunities I never pursued because I just didn’t feel confident enough to go after them.
Therefore, one of my goals as a parent has always been to try to encourage my children to have more confidence and courage than I did. That’s why I was intrigued when a copy of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids by Dr. Jenn Berman came across my desk. Although Dr. Berman covers a wide range of parenting issues, I especially liked the chapter called, "F Is for Free to Be Me!" because it really got down to the basics of building self-esteem in children. I was reassured by Dr. Berman’s words: "All parents want to raise children who feel great about themselves and, while there are no guarantees, there are many things that you can do to give your little ones this advantage." Some of the strategies she suggests include:
Watch Your Words: She cautions parents to avoid name-calling. Instead of saying, "You’re so careless," say "That was a careless thing to do."
Be Accepting: Let your children know that you accept them for who they are, flaws and all.
Grok Your Kids: The term grok , from the book Stranger in a Strange Land , means to "deeply comprehend and accept another." Parents need to make an effort to really understand their children by "not projecting any fantasies or desires on to a person and acknowledging who he or she really is."
Pay Attention: "Providing focused attention and empathy is also vital to your child’s self-esteem."
Respect Thoughts and Feelings: Respect your child’s opinions even if you don’t always agree. Ask your child for her opinions and really listen to her response.
Teach Your Child to Fail: Allow your children to engage in competition, which gives them opportunities to learn from their mistakes.
Have High Standards: Set high standards for your children, but don’t be "punishing, controlling, or benevolent." Learn how to balance having high expectations with pushing too hard.
Teach Them to Express: Teach children how to express their feelings so they don’t "act out in destructive ways." Know that all feelings are valid, even if they’re negative.
In my own life, I’ve made a promise to myself to work on my own self-esteem, to defeat those self-defeating thoughts that I’ve carried over from childhood. As Dr. Berman points out, "The best way to raise a child with healthy self-esteem is to model good self-esteem yourself. . . . If you feel that you are not a positive role model, then you owe it to yourself and to your child to do everything you can do to raise your self-esteem." That sounds like great advice for raising confident kids.