Regardless of what state or country I’m in, the question I’m asked most frequently by parents at my workshops is, “What’s the most important thing I can do to help my child succeed?” For five years I surveyed over 10,000 teachers from coast to coast and their number one response everywhere was, “Help children learn to believe in themselves.” For our children to succeed, they must first believe they can succeed.
Here are four steps you can take to develop positive self-beliefs and boost your child’s success quotient.
1. Convey to your child: “I believe in you.” When our children feel we believe in them, they grow to believe in themselves. When kids doubt our confidence in their capabilities, they tend to lower their expectations of themselves and fall short of their potential. This first step shows how to set the kinds of expectations that convey to children, “I believe in you!” and help kids form positive portraits about themselves.
Our children do try to live up to our expectations. We also know that the first place children learn to believe in themselves is from their parents. Intentionally, as well as unintentionally, we continually send messages to our kids–through our words, our looks and even our body language–that help form their self-beliefs. If children interpret our messages positively such as: “Mom thinks I’m responsible.” “Dad feels he can trust me,”-your child will try to fit himself into that view. On the other hand, if your child thinks you feel he can’t accomplish much on his own, he will begin to share your opinion and lower his expectations to accommodate your view.
Sometimes parents and teachers unintentionally send messages that diminish children’s sense of worth. One of the deadliest habits that chip away at children’s self-confidence is any form of stereotyping. Nicknames like Shorty, Clumsy, Crybaby, Slowpoke, Klutz, or Nerd can become daily reminders of incompetence. They can also become self-fulfilling prophecies. Regardless if the labels are true or not, when children hear the images they begin to believe them.
To help prevent your child from forming negative self-images, avoid using negative labels about your child whether you are in front of him or to others; never let any one else label your child; avoid making comparisons; and refrain from using genetic labels. Turn negative, demeaning labels into more affirming terms that help children develop more positive self-images. If the nickname does not boost your child’s feeling of adequacy, it’s best not to use it.
2. Set expectations that enhance success. The most powerful determinant of children’s success is parental expectations. Learn to set expectations that encourage kids to try new possibilities, expand their potential, and nurture their self-confidence. The message we send our children is critical. Expecting too little limits their success because they lose the incentive to try new possibilities. Unrealistic expectations can also damage our kids: “Why didn’t you get all A’s?” “Why didn’t you make the team?” Pushing our kids beyond their capabilities (because we want the best for them) may be interpreted as “You’re not good enough.” Successful expectations generally stretch our children’s potential to become their best without pushing them to be more than they can be. These expectations never destroy children’s feelings of adequacy.
The expectations you set for your children are ones that stretch their potential without unintentionally diminishing their self-worth. They should be: developmentally appropriate, realistic. child oriented, and success oriented.
3. Nurture strong, internal self-beliefs. Children with poor self-beliefs often have long bombarded themselves with a steady stream of derogatory messages. Their potential for success is greatly limited, because they don’t believe in their capabilities. Children become their best by helping them developing positive inner dialogues. Most of the time we talk—we’re speaking to ourselves! Self-talk is a critical part of how children acquire beliefs about themselves. One powerful way to help your child develop a firm belief in himself is to teach him to practice positive self-talk. If he learns the skill now, he’ll use it forever.
Helping a child break the habit of negative self-talk is not easy. You’ll need to be consistent. To help your child develop a more positive self-picture, model positive self-talk; develop a family “I can” slogan; point out “stinkin’ thinking;’” confront negative voices; turn negatives into positives; and send positive self-statement reminders.
4. Help your child see success and develop an “I can” attitude. As adults, we need to think we’re improving, getting better at something, and making progress. Knowing that we’re doing well helps us believe in our abilities and causes us to forge ahead and make continued efforts. Awareness that we’re improving is like a pat on the back to keep trying. Children also need to see improvements, especially in school where their growth is constantly measured. When you give your child evidence she is succeeding, you help her develop an “I can” attitude. So teach your child to record her own progress. As she sees her improvements her self-beliefs grow!
The following activities build “I can” attitudes: Recording progress, making a favorite work folder, putting up a bulletin board and starting an accomplishing journal. The key is to help your child choose the task she is most proud of. Then help your child look at her previous work in the folder and compare it to her present progress so she can see his improvements.
As parents, we have opportunities every day to reinforce our children’s self-beliefs. Our expectations for our children and our reactions and words to them can give them votes of confidence or chip away at their self-worth. Each day we could ask ourselves: “Of my child’s self-beliefs were based only on my words and actions today, what would he believe about himself?” Our answer should guide how we interact with our children.
This blog from Michele Borba.com is adapted from my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass). For more success tips refer to chapters on Perfectionism, Learning Disabilities, Gives Up, which have dozens of research-based solutions.
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