Ask any parent what their dreams are for their child and you will probably hear of their desire to see their kids reach their full potential and live a happy, loved and satisfied life. As parents it’s our greatest hope that our kids would have a positive view of themselves and the confidence to back their own talents and abilities as they navigate the challenges ahead of them.
Our kids are constantly making sense of themselves based on our interactions with them
Research tells us it’s our child’s early relationships in life that form their view of themselves as adults. It is gleaned over many years of everyday interactions with the people closest to them – our tone of voice, the comments we make about them and the little words of encouragement (or criticism) that we drop into everyday encounters.
Our children are infinitely unique. There is no one on the planet like them and getting to know them inside out is our number one assignment.I recently heard a dad giving his son the hurry-up as he was trying to make a decision in the supermarket, “Oh for goodness sake, you are pathetic, just make a decision!” His tone of voice was impatient and critical, he was fed up with waiting and he was letting his son know his frustration. From that conversation, that boy worked out that he was not good enough, too slow and a real frustration to his dad. A one-off comment like this is repairable, but a steady stream of them over time can really put a huge dent a child’s self-esteem.
Life teaches our kids to become acutely aware of where they need to improve. Our challenge as parents is to help them become equally aware of where they have it exactly right and to point out the gold that we see emerging in them. So how do we do this?
1. Get curious Our children are infinitely unique. There is no one on the planet like them and getting to know them inside out is our number one assignment. As parents, our job is to draw out the personality, strengths, character, likes, talents, opinions of our kids through hanging out with them and being curious and interested in how they experience the world. What is your child’s favourite foods, stories, characters, activities? Are they thinkers or talkers? Strong-willed or sensitive, or both? What are they afraid of? There is no right answer here, just the challenge to learn what makes your child tick. Kids only know the gold they have within them when someone they trust points it out to them.
2. Hunt for the gold Kids only know the gold they have within them when someone they trust points it out to them. Our job as parents is to call out the pieces of brilliance that we see emerging as our child develops. Sometimes it takes some determination to push past all the things that worry us or cause us concern and simply choose to focus on their strengths and look at them with the eyes of love. Choosing to reframe your child’s stubbornness as determination, or her messiness as creativity, or his anger as passion, helps us tune in to the gold within them.
3. The power of words The words we use when talking with our kids, and the tone we use them in, has the power to make or break our child’s view of themselves. If we are using harsh and critical instructions to communicate we will soon find our kids start to zone us out and avoid listening. When we use words that are respectful, in a tone that is kinder, our kids are far more open to staying tuned in and listening. Perhaps that dad at the supermarket could have tried, “Heck mate, that is a tough choice, I bet you will make a good decision.” This might have protected the boy’s self-esteem from taking a tumble. Time together builds a sense of safety, connection and belonging for kids.
4. Give them time Time is precious. Sometimes we feel the pressure as parents, to cram every last second of it with fun and memorable activities. What our kids really need is unstructured time to just hang out together and enjoy each other’s company. Time together builds a sense of safety, connection and belonging for kids. Just moving through the simple routines of the day teaches your child the rhythm of life and strengthens the bond between you both, this bond is like building their immune system for relationships later in life.
5. Stay calm Being a parent is a privilege. But it is also tiring and challenging. Recognise that even the best kids in the world are still going to be kids and will push the limits. Tiredness and tantrums go with the territory and are to be expected and not just for two year olds. Instead of taking it personally or flying off the handle when our child pushes our buttons, take a deep breath and reach for your stronger, calmer, wiser, kinder self. Remembering that our kids are eagerly observing us and absorbing our every move, we serve them well when we respond to them respectfully and refrain from throwing our own tantrums when things don’t go our way. Understanding the ebbs and flows of your child’s development helps put the sometimes puzzling, behaviours into perspective and helps us to keep in touch with changes in our child.
6. Relax Every child develops at their own unique pace and in their own sweet time. As your child grows they navigate literally hundreds of developmental milestones. Understanding the ebbs and flows of your child’s development helps put the sometimes puzzling, behaviours into perspective and helps us to keep in touch with changes in our child. Talk to other parents, or teachers, read and learn. Understanding the clingy stage when you are parenting a two-year-old, or the grumpy stage when parenting a teenager, helps to work out how to adjust our parenting strategies along the way and get some support from people who have been there before us.
7. Let them know you are on their team Let your child know that you are their number one fan and that every day when they head out the door you are with them cheering them on. Our kids face all kinds of challenges, especially at school, and they can do this only with the support and encouragement of the people in their life that they trust the most. Sending them out the door with a, “You’ve got this,” or a, “Just do your best” gives them the resilience to go and face their challenges knowing that, even when we are not with them, you have their back.