Dear Parents: If You Want to Raise Competent Kids, Have Some Confidence in Them
Seriously folks, this ain’t rocket science
“You’re going to drop that bag right on your foot,” said a young mother to her daughter, who appeared to be about four years old.
There are few things in this world that are more cringe-inducing to me than hearing parents speak to their precious offspring like that young mother was doing to her child, which is predicting that something they are doing isn’t going to end well. Perhaps the modern phrase is it’s a “trigger” to me. In any event I just cannot stomach hearing people talking to the kids as though they are incompetent idiots who can’t do anything right.
I say it’s a “trigger” because it reminds me of hearing the same negative words from the mouths of many adults along my several decades of existence. I dearly wish that people would learn to not talk to their kids that way.
Early in my parenting journey I realized this wasn’t the way I wanted to raise my son. No way in Hell was I going to be that over-protective and supposedly well-meaning mom who kept telling her kid he “couldn’t” (was unable to) do something or that whatever he attempted was going to not work out or would end in disastrous results … like the mom above who told her kid she was going to drop the bag.
(Oh and by the way, the kid didn’t drop the bag. I knew she wouldn’t. And also BTW, my son has grown to be a good, productive, hard-working contributing citizen, out in the world doing life or “adulting,” as some say. As his mom I am super proud.)
To my way of thinking, predicting “disastrous” outcomes is like telling children they are incapable of doing things — before they have even tried to do them!! Or the parent implies to the child there’s just no way they could learn to do it and so mommy or daddy must do it for them. This is insulting to the kids’ intelligence, plus they learn from this that they aren’t capable and — after receiving these messages for years — may lack confidence in their abilities, or lose the desire to ever try anything new.
A worst-case scenario may be kids who grow up to be highly dependent on others and/or develop severe anxiety because they’re scared of everything, all the time. Why, seriously, would you want to raise your children with this outcome as a goal? Wouldn’t you rather they spread their wings and fly, as high as they dare try, rather than stay on the ground, never venturing too far from the shore, so to speak??
“Success comes in cans; failure comes in can’ts.” — Anonymous; a saying that’s in one of my old church cookbooks
The sad fact is, this type of negative, confidence-sucking speaking to children is so common that I doubt many people either 1) realize are doing this, or 2) people don’t notice it or think it’s a “bad” thing, because they were talked to so much like this in their lives that they believed it’s perfectly normal and acceptable. Though it may be the “normal” way a lot of people were raised, in my view it is NOT acceptable.
I call this this negative mindset that “if anything bad/tragic/dangerous could possibly happen, it will, by golly.” Psychologists call this fatalistic thinking or catastrophic thinking. The grandmother of a guy I dated years ago used to say, according to him, “Don’t speak it (bad things) into existence.” I loved that; it helps me to speak of good things happening in my life. It’s not at all a new concept that we attract things to us through our thoughts (see also The Laws of Attraction and several other videos on YouTube).
As an illustration if this “what you focus on becomes your reality,” or “attracting what you think about” concept: When my son was little, both my ex husband and his biological father had this bad habit of hitting deer with their vehicles. I told my son that this was happening because they were so hyper-focused on the next calamity — which in this case was a collision, one that could be fatal to both men and beast — that they literally “attracted” this, the deer, into their lives (and onto their bumpers).
I realize this fatalistic/catastrophic mindset that so many in my generation have came from those before us, and is being passed down (unfortunately) to the generations after us. Kids are constantly being told things like “you’re going to fall/break a bone/crash that car,” etc. These words become ingrained in their minds that they become a tape in their minds constantly predicting the worst possible outcome. Is it any wonder that so many people today are on anti-depressants and/or anxiety meds??
And children, after having heard such messages, may prove their parents correct; they might become utterly helpless to do things — like get a job. Or they might say, “Ha!! You say I can’t do this or that?? Just watch me.” It can go either way; but it seems a lot more fruitful and loving to have confidence in your youngsters and let them know you believe in them.
See where I’m going with this? Kids that are always being told they’re going to “fail” at something may actually fulfill that prophecy. Being told they “can’t” may sap any self confidence they may have… And then you end up with a neurotic, anxious, non-achieving person who is afraid to try anything new or take any risks. Pretty sad, I think.
This, my friends, is why I CRINGE when I hear people talking to their kids like the lady at the beginning of my story. I think — and this isn’t rocket science— that if you allow your young ones try new things, to test what they are capable of, and encourage them and offer praise when they achieve the results, no matter how small, well by goodness surprise!! They just might be able to do it. Plus, they will be inspired to try more things, learn new skills and grow.
Though I’m an “old school” parent I am attracted to some “new wave” ways of raising kids. One of those “novel” ideas is called “positive parenting.” This is basically defined as the middle ground between being a strict parent focused on correction and control (the not-so-warm parenting approach used by many of our elders … and some younger people too) and being a overly-coddling parent who, well, does everything for their kids (“helicopter parents.”)
This “new” approach to raising kids isn’t really rocket science. “Positive parenting focuses on parenting practices that nurture the development of children’s core internal strengths,” writes Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD., in an article called “Positive Parenting: Powerful Ways to Raise Healthy Kids.”
She further writes, “Rather than focusing on kids’ weaknesses and deficits, positive parenting involves emphasis and loving attention on strengthening abilities that matter most to healthy development, like resilience, curiosity, and self-awareness. These practices help children believe in themselves and their abilities to be successful in school and life.” In other words, fellow parents, simply believe in your kids, convey confidence in them and focus on their positive actions and achievements .
Price-Mitchell says that children ’s confidence in themselves can be nurtured. Following are her suggestions from her article::
- Encourage them to try new things and offer praise for their efforts. If they don’t reach the intended goal or their efforts fall short, don’t make fun of or berate them. Frame your words carefully so as to hopefully not quash their positive belief in themselves and what they can do.
- Instead of focusing on problems (the negative view) call in a challenge and urge your kids to think them through and try to solve their challenge. This will foster confidence, rather than doing it all for them, when they learn they actually can do whatever the task is. Price-Mitchell writes, “Solving problems for children makes them dependent, not self-confident.” (Eureka! Exactly what I said above!! )
- Praise children for their efforts not their intelligence. Notice the positive things they do, such as showing empathy or sharing with others, etc., and point them out, noting that you are proud of them for their positive actions.
- Help kids learn from their mistakes; don’t make it into a huge “catastrophe” if they make mistakes. It’s how one learns necessary and useful lessons from their not-do-good decisions that is a measure of character. Mitchell-Price writes, “Acknowledge that you don’t expect our children to be perfect and let them know your love is unconditional regardless of their mistakes. Helping them see their mistakes as learning opportunities rather than defeats is key to positive parenting.”
- When your kids fall short of something, offer positive encouragement and guidance to your kids to “bounce back”. Towards this end Mitchell-Price suggests “be a helpful guide as your children identify their challenges, reflect on their choices, arrive at decisions, adjust their strategies, and plan next steps. When you do this,” she says, “you’ll be fostering your child’s resiliency.” (Now, isn’t THAT a wonderful goal??
To clarify, positive parenting is a more nurturing parenting style. It doesn’t mean you don’t discipline your children, because teaching discipline, self control and self-management is a vital part of parenting. Actions such as shaming, judging, and destroying your kids’ self confidence are not positive, or desirable, ways of raising children.
In addition to the above tips for raising confident, competent kids, let me offer this one to reiterate what I was saying above: Please, please, please stop telling your kids they “can’t” (are unable to) do things, stop predicting failure, stop with the negative confidence-undermining words that might produce a fearful, overly-dependent child. That is, if you want to see them do well in life and grow up (and move out), then let them know you believe that they CAN.
No, I’m not a child psychologist: I AM a lifelong people watcher, a highly interested observer of others’ behavior, and long-time student o f psychology, both in a classroom and self study. It just seems logical to me that positive parenting is a much better approach to child raising than some of the old ways — which employ negative language. Having faith in your kids and letting them know that they “can do it” is surely a better thing than constantly predicting they are going to “fail”. Think about it.