“The exhausting cycle of constantly monitoring their work and performance…makes children feel less competent and confident.” – Elizabeth Kolbert
It has become a commonplace idea that failure is good for kids, as it builds resilience. But when children fail over and over and don’t have the support to keep trying, all they learn is that they’re failures. Resilience comes not from failing, but from the experience of learning that you can pick yourself up, try again, and succeed. That requires at least some experience of success and lots of emotional support.
So it’s true that we all learn from overcoming challenges. But we also learn best when we experience success, which motivates us to tackle more difficult challenges. Mastery begets mastery. Failure sets up a cycle of lack of confidence, giving up and more failure.
We are also told that we, as parents, are over-protecting our children. As a result, they don’t gain confidence from learning to handle things for themselves. This is anxiety-provoking for any parent because the line between appropriate support and helicoptering is rarely clear. (Isn’t a helicopter parent just someone who hovers more than you do?) All parents want to protect their children (that’s our job!), but we also don’t want to stymie the development of self-confidence, resourcefulness and grit.
So are kids today really less confident than they used to be? I haven’t seen any convincing research to support that claim. But it certainly stands to reason that the more practice children have in managing themselves and their lives, and overcoming obstacles to meet their goals, the more confidence and competence they’ll develop. And I don’t think it’s news to any parent that our natural desire to protect our children and make sure that everything goes well for them can make us over-protective.
So how do we hit that sweet spot of appropriate support and protection on the one hand, and enough independence to foster confidence and competence on the other?
1. Stop Controlling and Start Coaching
Coaches help kids develop skills, but kids play the game. Your job as a parent is to support your child so he can flourish and develop. Doing things FOR him robs him of the opportunity to become competent. Doing things WITH him teaches him the how-to and builds up confidence. This means we have to manage our own anxiety and let go of our need to control.
Book a complimentary personal coaching session for your child to find out how the programmes at MindChamps could help in his/her academic performance.
2. Remember That Perfection Is Not the Goal
Resist the temptation to “improve” on your child’s task, unless the outcome is vitally important. Constant intervention undermines a child’s confidence and prevents him from learning for himself.
3. Let Him Try To Do It Himself from the Earliest Age
Rein in your own anxiety. That doesn’t mean abandoning him to it. Stand by, smiling, ready to be helpful in whatever way actually helps your child. But do try to keep your comments and hands to yourself except to give appropriate encouragement, unless you REALLY need to help.
Clucking anxiously about how worried you are as he climbs that play structure may make you feel better and impress the other parents at the playground with your attentiveness – but it won’t help your child. In fact, it limits him. Just ask if he is keeping himself safe, then stand by and spot him. Smile proudly and say, “Look at you! I knew you could do it!”
And if he falls, you’re there to catch him. Which is, after all, what allowed him to try it.
4. Help Him Build Confidence by Tackling Manageable Challenges
Emotional development researchers call this “scaffolding,” which could be defined as the framework you give your child on which he builds. You demonstrate how to do something, or you use words to suggest a strategy, or you simply spot him. This assistance helps him to succeed when he tries something new, and small successes achieved with your help give him the confidence to try new things himself. Scaffolding also teaches children that help is always available if they need it. You want your kids to know that deep in their bones before they hit adolescence.
Encourage, encourage, encourage – and other tips to raise a confident, competent child with grit on the next page.