Raise Amazing Kids
I think we can all agree that we want our kids to grow into happy, heathly and confident adults, right?
So how do we achieve this? Well, there are many ways to approach it. And this is by no means an exhaustive list of things that parents should be doing. Instead, this post will discuss one simple thing you can encourage your kids to do to put them on a path towards confidence. But before I begin, I want to reinforce something important.
Most of our parenting behavior, if we are doing a great job, comes from a place of coaching our children. We do this by example (role-model), or by offering suggestions, or by teaching, or inspiring our kids in some way. We help them to grow up understanding acceptable social behavior and how to interact socially, among other things.
With that in mind, it’s important that you give your kids plenty of time, starting very early in life, to practice their social skills in public. Basic conversation skills are a necessity in life. You want your child to be able to engage with their peers, to exchange information and to be able to express their thoughts and feelings. And you want your kids to have the confidence to step away from negative peer pressure. It’s our job to help our kids build coping skills, to be present and supportive, to answer questions and help them develop problem solving skills.
Begin in the home. Start teaching your children how to communicate in the home first. This usually involves you (the parents), siblings, and friends who come over for play dates. That’s the obvious first step. When your child wants something, encourage him or her to ask on his own, not come over to you and pester you to ask on his or her behalf.
Then take it to the next level. Have your child practice their adult interactions. If you’re at a corner store give your kids the money and have them pay. If you’re having dinner at a restaurant, don’t order for your kids. Just direct the waiter to take your kids’ orders just as they’d take your order. Encourage your kids to speak up for what they’d like to eat on the menu, or ask questions. They’ll naturally look to you to ask, and you can simply say, “That’s a great question, Matt, I don’t know the answer. I bet the waiter can tell you.”
Teaching kids to interact with adults will build up confidence, because they will realize it isn’t that scary after all, and speaking your mind is a good thing. It will also encourage problem solving, because you’re pushing kids to use communication to solve a problem. Very often in life problems are solved by collecting information. This is done by communication, right?
Obviously, it’s best to have your kids practice these skills in a safe environment and when mom and dad are there to help if needed. And of course school should be considered a safe environment (otherwise wouldn’t you move your child to a new school?)
My daughters love to read, so we take a lot of trips to the local library. My daughter, Anne, is in grade 4 right now. Every month she has to submit a book report to her teacher. The first project this school year was to read a biography. When we visited the library to find a book for her, I didn’t know where to look any more than she did. We knew we’d need help finding the right section. My daughter has been to this library many times. She’s become accustomed to walking up the librarian to ask for help. So she didn’t hesitate to go find the nice lady and ask, “Excuse me, but do you know where I can find biographies?”
I was very proud of my daughter for having the guts to speak up rather than begging me to go solve her problems. And it didn’t end there. The librarian had to ask her some questions about the kind of books she was looking for. I stood back and let my daughter handle the whole situation herself. You know what? She didn’t have nerves of steel and hammer out confident answers the way I would have as an adult. But that’s the whole point. She isn’t an adult yet. She’s learning. And she learns more by doing than watching.
She ended up with a perfectly age-appropriate biography about Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. She figured out where to find the books by asking for help herself. She picked the book herself. We helped her organize her thoughts for the report. She earned a tremendous sense of accomplishment from doing this. I’m proud of her for getting an A on the report too. But I’m more proud of the effort she put into getting it all done.
The reason that my daughter has become comfortable interacting with adults is because we’ve encouraged it over the years. At the local toy store she’ll immediately ask for help finding a toy or a book. If something she wants to spend her allowance on isn’t in stock she’ll confidently leave them with her name and phone number (with our permission, of course). It’s also amazing to see her younger sister, Liz, model this same behavior. Liz sees that her older sister can speak to adults with confidence, so she gets the message that she can to. And she’s right! She can.
There’s no science to this. Practice, practice, and practice. Your children will build their self-esteem, boost their confidence and feel empowered the more they get to practice interacting with adults. The more they get to do this, the more successful they will become as adults.
John Gottman explores this idea at great length in his popular book, How to Raise Emotionally Intelligent Children (here’s the Amazon.com link). I’ve read this book and I highly recommend it. You should be able to find it at your local library
Enjoy your children!