The idea that failure builds resilience has become commonplace. However, when children continually fail and don’t have the support to keep trying, all they learn is that they are failures. Resilience does not come from failing but from the experience of learning that you can pick yourself up, try again, and succeed. That requires some experience of success and a lot of emotional support. Its true that we all learn from overcoming challenges, but we also learn best when we experience success. Mastery begets mastery. Failure leads to lack of confidence, giving up and more failure.
Self-esteem/confidence is your child’s passport to a lifetime of mental health and social happiness. It’s the foundation of a child’s well-being and the key to success as an adult. The more practice children have in managing themselves, their lives and overcoming obstacles, the more confidence they will develop. Here are some tips on how to hit that sweet spot between appropriate support and enough independence to foster confidence.
- Stop controlling and start coaching. Coaches help kids develop skills, but kids play the game. Your job as a parent is to support your child so they can flourish and develop. Doing things FOR them robs them of the opportunity to become competent. Doing things WITH them teaches them “how” and builds confidence. As parents we have to let go of our need to control.
- Perfection is not the goal. Resist the temptation to “improve” on your child’s task. Constant intervention undermines a child’s confidence and prevents them from learning for themselves.
- Give your child the framework in which he/she builds. Basically you demonstrate how to do something or suggest a strategy. This will help you child when he/she tries something new. Small successes achieved with your help will give your child the confidence to try new things independently. Let them do things on their own at an early age. Stand by with a smile. Be ready to be helpful and give appropriate encouragement. Let your child work it out until assistance is requested. Small successes achieved with your help will give your child the confidence to try new things independently.
- Do not set your child up for failure. Offer structure to help your child succeed. Rescuing children can prevent them from learning important lessons. Help your child each step of the way to organize ideas and work but do not do the work for them or improve their work yourself. Your child completes the job, feels proud and learns something about how to plan and execute a task.
- Encourage! All humans need encouragement. Encouraging your child not only keeps them feeling positive and motivated but also gives them an inner voice. Help your child manage frustration by providing mantras (“practice makes progress”, “I think I can”, “if you don’t succeed, try again”). When kids face challenges, they need an automatic internal comforting voice to encourage and motivate them.
- Don’t evaluate. Describe and empathize. Praise evaluates the outcome of your child’s action. Saying “good job” doesn’t give them much information about what was good about what they did or why you think it was good. You can refine your praise to make it serve your child better by giving him/her the power to evaluate for themselves. Describe what they did and empathize with how they felt (“you kept practicing and didn’t give up…….you must feel so happy to have mastered that dance step”).
- Focus on effort not results. Give positive feedback about things you child can control like hard work or perseverance rather than things they feel they cannot control like being smart. The point is never the product. You don’t want your child to stop trying. Your goal is for your child to keep trying, practicing, improving and to learn that hard work leads to accomplishing goals.
- Model positive self-talk. Whatever you model, your child will learn and emulate. Do not make disparaging remarks or berate yourself/others. Positive self-talk has been shown to improve our ability to master difficult tasks.
- Do not be afraid of your child’s feelings. When your child encounters frustration, remember that your empathy will be a critical factor in them overcoming it. Instead of automatically jumping in to remove the source of frustration, give it a larger context by communicating your compassion (“I am sorry this is so hard……”). It is okay for a child to get frustrated and be disappointed. Your child may cry or sulk but your unconditional understanding will help them move forward especially when you express your confidence in them. That is how children develop resilience!
- Affirm your child’s ability to impact the world. Competence and feelings of mastery are about power and derive from a child’s experience of themselves as having an impact on the world. All children will experience reasonable limits to their power. However, the more opportunities your children have to make a difference, the more they will see themselves as capable.
In the end, our job as a parent is to work ourselves out of a job and it starts when kids are very young. All children eventually grow up and live their lives without us. How they live will partly depend on whether or not we have been able to rise above our own desire to control our kids. There is an old adage about giving children roots and wings. Unconditional love is the roots. Confidence is the wings. Young people who have both live bigger and fuller lives!