Healthy Confidence for Your Kid
by Dr. John Townsend
The elementary and middle school years are the “sponge” years of growing up. Your child is on a steep learning curve, mastering English, math and science. Sports, the arts and culture are other new challenges. On top of that, he or she is becoming more social as well, learning the rules of relationships. It’s an exciting time.
There is another side to the “sponge” years, however, and that is that as the challenges increase, so do the failures. Your child will inevitably stumble and fall as he or she works on learning all of these new areas of life. This can often cause discouragement, self-doubt and a tendency to give up too easily. But your child needs to be confident and have a good sense of healthy self-image. Here are some tools that will help you help your kid.
Confidence and self-image come from a reality-based view of who we are. Kids who feel OK inside know that they have parents who love them and are “for” them no matter how they fail. Their ability to feel good is not based on performance, but on a solid foundation of relational and unconditional love, being “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17).” Remember that love and relationship should always trump work and performance.
Praise them for effort, heart and success. No one hits a home run every time or learns the math tables instantly. But when your kid puts real effort and heart into learning and trying, and even succeeds, say “Way to go! I am proud of you.” You have no idea how much this means to a child. Don’t praise the gifts of a child: looks and talent are nothing they’ve earned. Praise those things that took work and risk.
Review the past successes. Kids have short memories and often feel like losers or that they are hopeless when they encounter a failure or challenge. Remind them of times they have worked hard and been competent: “Remember second grade when you wrote that song and we all loved it?” This will bring back to your child the reality that they have done things well, and will again in the future.
Initiate normalizing talks about failure. Be proactive! Don’t wait for your kid to not make the baseball team or bring home her first failing grade. Start talking to your child now about how failure is a normal part of life, something everyone experiences and is a way to learn. Say: “This year you will take harder classes and your grades may come down. That’s OK with me. I will help and support you. If you keep working hard, you’ll bring your grades up.” Consider sharing something that was hard for you as a child. A good reference for normalizing failure is the book Raising Great Kids written by me and Dr. Henry Cloud.
Help them when they do fail. Since failures will happen, be the best possible parent you can be. When your child blows it in some area of life, simply listen empathetically, let them have their sad or frustrated feelings and don’t talk them out of them. Then, when you have heard him out, just encourage him or her: “I know it was hard when you didn’t do well in social studies. But I believe in you, and I will walk alongside you as you do your next project.” The ability to be heard, and then encouraged (in that order) will bring confidence up.
Kids need confidence and solid self-images during the “sponge” years. Use these tools to develop what they need.
Dr. John Townsend is a psychologist, leadership coach and author of many books, including Loving People, Raising Great Kids, Boundaries, Boundaries with Kids and Mom Factor. For a complete list of resources, visit cloudtownsend.com.