Think back to your childhood? How would you describe yourself? Quiet and meek, or bold and over the top? We are all born with a set of characteristics, but our life experiences shape us in ways where we can enhance skills which may not come natural to us.
As parents and educators we want our kids to be confident, kind and caring humans who do good in the world. These characteristics can be shaped by everyday life, and things we intentionally do and say to our kids.
However, sometimes self-doubt can creep in from different sources. This is what happened to Gerald in the book, Giraffes Can't Dance. In the jungles of Africa all of the animals knew how to dance well, but Gerald the Giraffe felt he was an awkward dancer, and was even called “weird” by the other animals. After feeling down on himself and leaving the jungle dance, he found a cricket who encouraged him to dance to the music he hears. With that encouragement Gerald “found his swing,” and was then admired by the other animals. The book ends with the wonderful quote, “We can all dance, when we find the music we love.”
Here are seven tips that parents and educators can do to help build self-confidence in children:
1. Praise. Praise can sound like a great idea. However, “good job,” or “that’s awesome,” can fall on deaf ears as it loses its meaning very quickly. Be specific and intentional with your praise. For example, “I appreciated the way you helped your sister with her multiplication facts today.”
2. Put the Work on Your Child. After some time we may sound like the adults in Charlie Brown... “Wah, wah, wah” in the eyes of our children. Kids may even say, “You have to say nice things about me, you’re my mom.” When you catch your child or student making good choices you can say something along the lines of, “Look at that… what did you notice about the time spent with your sister today?” Having kids say things about themselves helps them believe it, and in turn it helps them live up to the image of the person they believe they are (which you already know!).
3. Show Love - to your child and to yourself. The way we speak to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. Regardless of your child’s age, tell them you love them in a variety of ways, and show them with your actions. Whether your child is 2, 12, 22 or beyond - even a simple hug goes a long way! Also be mindful of the things you say to yourself and about yourself. If your child is used to hearing you say, “I’m so bad at math,” they will see that as acceptable self talk and will do the same.
4. Identify and Cultivate an Area of Skill. We are all born with a different set of skills. Think of the different groups in high school: athletes, musicians, artists, book smart, student government, etc. There are actually nine different areas of intelligence your child can have. These include nature smart, people smart, number smart, picture smart, self smart, body smart, music smart, word smart, and theory/philosophy smart. Usually most excel in at least one area. Help your child develop skills they have in their area of strength so they feel successful.
5. Help Your Child’s Growth Mindset. While we may all have an area of strength, that doesn’t mean we’re pros all the time. Kids need to know that it’s beneficial to make mistakes, because it’s from mistakes which we learn. Expecting perfection from your child may lead them to expect that is the norm in all areas of their lives. Having a growth mindset (as opposed to a fixed mindset) sounds like this: “I don’t know how to do that, but I’m working hard and I know I’ll get it.” “That’s still hard for me, but I’m doing my best.” And using the power of yet. “I can’t play the sax… YET!”
6. Foster Resilience. Along the lines of making mistakes, it is also important to teach our kids that sometimes we fail, or don’t do as well as we expected we would. If we are helicopter parents who never let our kids fall, how will they ever learn to rise? Strive to be a safety net for your child, so that if they fall (which they will), you are there to guide them back up, as opposed to never letting them fall. Encourage your child to make mistakes in a safe environment you and their school can provide, so they know it’s okay to “dust their shoulders off” and try again.
7. Let It Go. To further help the aspect of resilience, teach your child [through your own words and actions] to not sweat the small stuff, and let go of the unimportant stuff. It’s important to teach children that everyone may not be for everybody, however it is important to respect all. In other words, everyone won’t always like them, and they may not always like everyone they meet. Regardless, they should treat everyone with kindness and respect, and if ever they are treated unkindly, instead of making it the fabric in their lives, they can (be like Elsa) and “let it go.”
The cricket in the story Giraffes Can't Dance was the perfect example of a parent figure guiding their child to find the best in themselves. Although young in nature, students as high as fifth grade could find benefit from the awesome moral of this story. Giraffes Can't Dance would be a great addition to any school or personal library! You can purchase your own copy by clicking the Amazon affiliate link below.
It is always my pleasure to help you Learn, Grow and Inspire!
Vanessa De Jesus Guzman is a former teacher, school counselor and licensed associate counselor serving children and families in the northern New Jersey area. To learn more visit www.freetobemindful.com.