Most parents share a common goal – to provide their children with a happy and fulfilling childhood that sets them up for life as a successful adult. Growing up and gaining independence is obviously not a simple process, rather a complex journey with layers of learning and experience. As parents tasked with raising the next generation, it can all seem a bit daunting! And fair enough – with privilege comes responsibility. But we needn’t be overwhelmed. The key foundation for this wonderful journey of discovery is quite simple – it’s relationship.
Research tells us it’s our children’s early relationships in life that form their view of themselves as adults. In other words, our kids are constantly making sense of themselves based on our interactions with them. The tone and theme of those interactions play a vital role in shaping how our children see themselves, and how they consider their place in the world.
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There’s a lot that can be said on this topic, but here we look at three goalposts to keep in mind when interacting with our children – three messages we can send our kids every day, throughout the day. They all start with C, which is handy for recall, and they’re all interrelated – when we encourage our kids that they are Capable, we are building their Confidence and teaching them how they can Contribute.
It’s a delicate balance, I’m sure you’ll agree – too much confidence with not enough contribution or – dare I say it – capability, you might end up with a diva on your hands. Emphasis spread evenly over capability, confidence and contribution, however, equals all-round great kids who are destined to make the world a better place.
Our children come jam-packed with ability, talent, even gifting – it’s our job as the loving, nurturing adults in their world to help them identify that gold and draw it out. It can take time, curiosity and an array of coaching fees to discover the special talents a child is destined to impress upon the world, but more important than showing our children the areas they may excel in, is showing our children they are comprehensively capable.
“You can do it” is not just a flippant parenting cliché, it’s the central theme our coaching. We need to teach our kids the skills required to be capable, but also regularly reinforce the message that they are capable. Obviously certain tasks and abilities are developmentally dependent – your five-year-old is not going to be cooking dinner three nights a week. But they are capable of unloading the dishwasher (some of the dishwasher?). And they are capable of bravely starting school and navigating their way through a trip to the dental nurse – especially when they have a parent coaching them through life’s big and little challenges with a relentlessly hopeful message of capability. “You can do hard things!”
You can feel Confident
We can help our children gain confidence by identifying their strengths and championing them with encouragement. As any parent knows, it’s not always that easy, especially when you have multiple children with vastly different abilities. Hence we do well to remember that the world’s measure of success does not translate that effectively into childhood. Sure, a future Ritchie McCaw or Lydia Ko does sometimes pop their head up at primary school, but chances are, the journey of discovering talent and aptitude is life-long, and so it should be. The different seasons of our life demand different strengths from us and ideally we should still be growing and learning well into adulthood. What has this got to do with a child’s confidence? It relates back to my last point about capability – confident children have a foundational awareness that they are capable – that they can do good stuff. Helpful, practical, everyday stuff. Yes, some will win trophies and awards year after year, but as parents we need to look beyond all the shiny and obvious achievements (which, in reality, only go to a few) and champion the real-life skills our children are developing. Respect to the kids who make their own lunches every morning. High-fives to the teenagers who can throw together a mid-week spaghetti bolognaise. And yes, for the most part those young people have been taught these great skills by patient parents who’ve taken the time to empower them – not just do all those everyday things for their kids so they can rush them off to the next competitive event.
How do we help our kids gain confidence? Conveniently for all, chores are really helpful here. When we teach our kids how to do things and then build the expectation that they have responsibility around the home – be it folding washing, making beds, looking after pets or all of the above – we are building their confidence. It’s a total win-win.I’m talking to myself here. This year I’ve inadvertently found myself ferrying our kids to gymnastics, dance and swimming competitions. What has been most daunting about this, (besides the early mornings, exorbitant entry fees and the sparkly leotards imported from America), is the concern with how my girls would cope with the pressure of competition and the reality of not winning (some kids win, sure, but a lot don’t!). What I’m realising, however, is that the confidence they’ve quietly built from everyday experiences of being capable, contributing humans provides an invaluable resource of resilience to cope with all areas of life – including the pressure of a competitive sporting, academic or cultural arena. (Disclaimer: we’re yet to venture anywhere near a competitive academic arena!)
At the end of the day, however, the benchmark of our kids’ confidence is not what they can do, but who they are – loved and valued members of a family. Unconditional love that’s more interested in the delightful person a child is rather than in the amazing things they can do – this is the real gold.