As such a diverse species, there’s very little we humans agree on; yet, if there’s one thing all parents have in common is the fact we all want what is best for our children.
And yet, despite our best intentions, the truth is the overwhelming majority of adults has confidence and self-esteem problems whose roots can be traced back to how their parents interacted with them when they were small.
Now, this is not, by any means, their parents’ intention – they just didn’t know any better. But that doesn’t have to be your case.
Here are 5 things you need to know to raise confident and capable children:
There Is No Manual – But That Doesn’t Mean You Have Nothing To Learn From
We hear often people say they wish there was a manual for raising kids – especially among the new parents population.
It’s true, your child doesn’t come with instructions, but most people then default back to “I’ll just do what my parents did”. Please stop!
When they say “Trust your instincts”, they actually mean your instincts, not your parents’.
Most people use this method. They think “Well, my parents raised me and I turned out alright”. And I’m sure you did – but that doesn’t mean you can’t do even better raising your own children.
Think of it this way – Is there something you’re insecure about? Seriously, anything. Your body, perhaps; or does speaking in public scare you? Do you feel deep down that you’re not worthy of love? Are you afraid of failure? Or worse, are you afraid of success? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, it means there’s still room for improvement in your parents’ method. And do you remember how it felt when you were punished? Guilt-tripped? Scolded in front of your friends?
Here’s the thing, your parents, in all likelihood, did the same – they raised you the same way their parents raised them. This means raising children has become a perpetuated, stagnant cycle of rinse-repeat. Can you imagine still relying on the transportation systems of your grandparents’ times? Fortunately, technology evolves, and so should our children.
Do take your own experience as a child to heart, but instead of emulating it, improve it. Take note of what could have been done better to you and make sure you always make an even better job than your parents did at raising your child.
Be Mindful Of The Person You’re Molding
Children up to age 7, more or less, are like unrestrained sponges, absorbing everything in their surroundings as they build up their neurological functions. This means language, motor skills, social cues, information about the world around them and even beliefs they have about themselves. It’s a critically sensitive period in which you’ll mold the way your child perceives the world, people and especially themselves.
This means that if you say unto a child “Don’t be silly”, the child will process that they’re silly. Be mindful of the words you use. It doesn’t matter if you said it jokingly, or sarcastically, the child doesn’t have the mechanisms yet to fully understand that.
So, instead of telling the child not to be something negative, simply tell them to be something positive. Instead of saying “Don’t be stupid”, say “Come on, you’re smarter than this” with an encouraging smile.
But above all, be mindful of the beliefs you’re installing in your child. Tell them they can do anything, that they can learn anything; tell them that, even if it’s not perfect today, you know they can do it if they work at it.
Isn’t that much better than telling them they’re wrong or that they can’t do something? And what kind of adult do you think you’ll be raising this way? A much more capable one, that’s who.
Practise Complete Unconditional Love As Often As Possible
We don’t even realise it, but we put our children under enormous amounts of pressure. We ask our children about their grades in school, we tell our children to have a very specific behaviour in public, we tell our children what to do in order to be beautiful, which presupposes they’re not; essentially, we’re giving them conditions.
It’s certainly not the intention, but the message that syncs in is that they need to do well at school, behave properly and look a certain way for us to love them. That what, or who they are, isn’t enough, that they need to earn your love as a parent.
Appalling, isn’t it? That despite all our talk of unconditional love, we put our children through so much pressure to meet the conditions to feel loved.
Most parents do this because they’re afraid. They feel they aren’t living up to their full potential, and so are scared their children won’t either. And the way they find to fix that is by pushing the child to be better. Now, while that’s an admirable goal, the means by which to achieve it are flawed. No child becomes better by learning they’re not good enough. Remember to be mindful of the beliefs you install.
No seed requires help to grow a tree. All the information to become a big, sturdy tree is already inside the seed. It doesn’t need other trees to coax it out. The same happens with children. We don’t need to push them to become better – we just need to make them confident and capable as who they are. They will grow and they will become better – but not because of fear, not because they need to do that to earn your love, but because they want to, because they’re inspired to. That should be our job – not to push children, but inspire them. And let them choose their own course. (More on that here)
Firm Doesn’t Mean Punishing
This is a huge misconception out there. We all know that it’s important to teach children what is alright and what isn’t. Sharing your dessert with a friend – very OK; stealing your friend’s dessert – not OK. Then, most parents apparently decide that the best way to teach them this is by punishing them when they do something wrong.
Punishments and rewards are the same methods employed by B.F. Skinner to train pigeons to guide missiles – it’s called Operant Conditioning and it’s what people use to train dogs or any other animal into doing tricks. Is that really how you want to raise your child? Teaching them tricks like a puppy?
What happens when a child is brought up this way is that they learn by association that they don’t want to do “bad things”, not because they are good people, but because they’re afraid of the consequences. Think about that for a second…
If we want to truly raise conscious human beings, shouldn’t we be working to develop that in them?
Much to the contrary of what most parents think, children know what they do, they just don’t usually think beyond what that means to them. If we condition their behaviour through punishment, they’ll still be thinking only of how their behaviours will affect them. Instead, we need to educate them, show them that other people have feelings too and that they can have a very strong impact on how other people feel.
If a child lies to a parent about something and the parent finds out, most will react by punishing the child. The child will then learn his lesson – next time, lie better.
But how often do we see parents sitting down with their child and saying “I recently found out from X that what you told me about Y isn’t true. I’m very sad right now because I thought I could trust you – and I want to. I’m sorry if you thought you couldn’t trust me with the truth and I promise I’ll be more understanding in the future. So can we trust each other completely, now?”
This is completely different to what parents usually do. And what do you think the result will be? In interacting with the child this way, I’m recognizing him as a conscious, thinking human being and I’m appealing to his empathy rather than his fear. No child wants their parents to feel sad; and isn’t teaching them to take care of others a better motivator for good behaviour than fear of consequences?
Make a child aware of what they’re doing, and the emotional effects it’s having, and you’ll succeed in raising an extraordinary child.
Adolescence Is An Opportunity
This is probably the most infamous of developmental stages due to the conflicts that arise and the edgy sensitivity of teenagers.
Let me just state this out plainly: This is not the Devil-stage so many people are convinced it needs to be. It’s true, they’ll test your limits – because they want to be adults. This is their opportunity to practise for adulthood. Yet, most parents will make a point of treating them like they always have, like children.
It’s true, they’re not adults yet, but they are becoming them. So shouldn’t we be helping them to better take on that role, instead of trying to hold them down?
If you pay attention and correctly interact with your child, bringing them up to be confident and capable, giving them responsibility, fostering empathy and making them conscious human beings as outlined in the previous points, adolescence will automatically be exponentially easier on you. Teenagers battle with insecurities that were installed in early childhood and are now being aggravated, so if you are mindful to install confidence, power and the belief of endless possibilities, if they feel you love and accept them unconditionally, then these insecurities won’t ever be able to take much hold.
In treating teenagers like children, we’re effectively disrespecting them, poking at those insecurities and escalating them.
When a parent wants their teenage son to do something, they usually phrase it somewhat like “Do this. Now!” And then we’re surprised that most teenagers harbour anger and resentment towards their parents? If you pay attention to how parents interact with their children, you’ll notice just how rare it is for a parent to say something so simple as “Please”. (You can read more about how to get teenagers on your side here)
The hardest lesson of all is that we have to let go. We have to trust they know what they’re doing – and even if not, we need to let them learn from their own mistakes. The best parents don’t enforce anything on their kids – they’re just their biggest cheerleaders.