Healthy Confidence for Your Kid
By: Dr. John Townsend
The elementary and middle school years are the “sponge” years. Your child is on a steep learning curve, mastering English, math and science. Sports, the arts and culture are a new world. On top of that, she is becoming more social as well, learning the rules of relationships. It is an exciting time.
There is another side to the “sponge” years, however, and that is that as the challenges increase, so do the failures. That is, in this new world, your child will inevitably stumble and fall as he works on learning all 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 to help you help him.
First, 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 inside. Don’t praise the outside and the gifts of a child: looks and talent are nothing they 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 them the reality that they have done things well, and will again in the future.
Initiate normalizing talks about failure. Be proactive here! Don’t wait for your kid to not make the baseball team, or bring home her first failing grade. Start talking to her now, before that, about how failure is normal, a part of life, something everyone experiences, and is a way to learn: “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.” A good reference for this is Raising Great Kids by myself and Henry Cloud.
Help them when they do fail. Since it 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: “I know it was hard when you didn’t do well in art. But I believe in you and I will help you.” That ability to be heard, and then encouraged (in that order) will bring confidence up.
Kids need confidence and solid self-images in these “sponge” years. Use these tools to develop what they need. God bless you.
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