As parents, we often underestimate our influence in building stable, capable, happy children and teens.
Below are 10 common sense, easy and powerful ways to help grow your child or teen into a confident, competent young adult.
What we focus on grows.
If we focus on what we consider to be our child’s flaws, this is what we are unintentionally building. If we focus on what they are good at, we will enable them to naturally overcome their limitations.
We all have different strengths and weaknesses naturally. Noticing, focusing, valuing and encouraging our child or teens strengths will actually empower them to overcome any weaknesses.
Criticism teaches children to condemn themselves, and others. This can affect their core confidence and self-value as well as their happiness and the value they place on making healthy choices for themselves and their life.
To curb unwanted behaviour or thinking, it can be helpful to sandwich the change you want in-between two good qualities.
For example, if one child is picking on their sibling, you could say something like, “You are such a kind considerate person” (positive reinforcement, top of the sandwich). “I’m wondering if you could show …sibling… just how kind you are. They really need your support at the moment” (desired change, worded in the positive). “I know you have such a knack for picking the right words and actions to support other people” (positive reinforcement, the bottom of the sandwich).
This way, your child or teen is less likely to resist your request. In fact, they actually feel empowered and motivated to take it on.
Our job, as parents, is essentially to free our children of their dependence on us – both emotionally and physically – so they become strong, capable, independent adults.
The trick is finding a balance between too much control, and too little.
Ideally, children need to feel like there are consequences for their actions – and that they are in charge. We can start teaching this at a young age. Even as toddlers, calmly saying something like, “Mummy wants to keep you safe, and sunscreen stops you getting sunburnt, so if you don't want me to put the sunscreen on that's okay but then we won't be able to go to the park”.
This conversation style can help teens cooperate and open up to parents. For example, consider how different the following sound: “Your curfew is 10 pm and if you’re late you will be grounded”, compared to, “Darling, I’m concerned about you getting enough sleep before school tomorrow. Here is some literature about how sleep affects teens. I know you always make good decisions, so I’m sure you’ll agree being home by 10 pm during the week is a sensible idea”.
If we come from a loving place of concern for our children, we enhance our relationship with them.
The more we trust our children to make good decisions, the more good decisions they will make.
What we call “mistakes” are actually just learning opportunities. When we make "mistakes", we've learned what “not to do”. And often learning what not to do is the most valuable learning of all.
If our children see us embracing the learning our “mistakes” provide us, this gives them the confidence to learn and grow through their own "mistakes". With this kind of attitude, they are more able to embrace the adventure that life is. They build resilience.
When it comes to our children, we may think it’s wise to place conditions on our love and acceptance. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We cannot give too much love, affection, support, empathy and understanding to our children. There is no such thing as too many “I love you’s”, only, not enough. There is no such thing as too many cuddles and loving explanations of what a wonderful gift they are to our life.
Children who feel valued by us value themselves. They are more likely to make healthy choices as a result.
Joyful sharing and laughter is the essence of life. Children who feel like they are fun, stimulating company, to those closest to them, feel likeable. It’s then easier to take peer issues (which are inevitable) less personally.
This is a simple way to build resilience – and to resist the temptation to make what other peoples' opinions mean something about how a child sees themselves.
Words have a powerful effect on the mental, and even physical well-being of our children – especially our words.
I often work with clients who are still trying to overcome the negative labels placed on them by their parents as children.
Even a flippant remark, such as, “You stupid boy” or “You’re so annoying” can create what we call a negative feedback loop in a child or teens mind. Negative labels can stick, even at a subconscious level. We then begin to find evidence in the world that we are “stupid”, “lazy”, “annoying” or whatever the label may be. We manifest “proof” in our mind of the label, thinking for example, “Oh this always happens because I’m so stupid – Dad was right”. Then the label can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There's no puppet up in the sky telling us how to think and feel. We can choose our thoughts, and this will affect what we feel – and how we feel about ourselves. The sooner children learn this, the sooner they will be the master of their own destiny, naturally building their own confidence and abilities.
If we notice our children have fallen into negative thinking and feeling patterns, the sooner we address it the better. Engaging someone who works at both a conscious and unconscious level can be very helpful if your child is stuck.
Learning to take charge of our bodies and minds is invaluable. It is ultimately what drives all success and happiness.
It’s vitally important for children to hold on to their value and self-worth regardless of what they experience, and no matter what others think, do and say.
Even and especially the most challenging experiences can strengthen us in the most powerful ways. Just as exercise and challenging ourselves physically builds strength and vitality in our body, challenging ourselves mentally builds a strong mind. Hence the Buddhist belief that without suffering we cannot experience true happiness.
Our kids need to understand that the opinions of others reflect that person, not them – just as what I think about tomato sauce reflects my preference or taste, and has no effect on the tomato sauce.
When any one of us feels like a victim, we feel disempowered. This is a disaster for the development of self-confidence. At the basis of deep inner confidence lies our ability to know we are the master of our own destiny – we are in charge of our thoughts, emotions, decisions and actions. We can choose to grow and learn from our inevitable challenges – or we can allow ourselves to be defeated by them. Points 8 and 9 support this mindset.
Regardless of what happens to us, we can choose to grow stronger because of it. We are only a victim if we choose to be one.
Children learn from watching and copying others, and as parents, we are more influential than anyone else in their life. Setting an example can therefore profoundly influence our kids.
Don’t worry if you feel you made a few parenting “mistakes”. It’s part of being human. We can only do what we know at the time. Then, when we know better, the best thing we can do is take responsibility for our actions, acknowledging our "mistake" with our kids and fixing it. Letting them that we have realised we were overly critical, and have decided to change this behaviour, for example, can provide a powerful, open and honest learning platform - which will also enhance our relationship with our child.
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