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Building kids confidence to think on their own

How-to-Boost-Confidence-of-Your-KidWhen our children are young, we as parents are making all of the decisions for them.  What they eat, wear, what they do, where they go and who they are playing with.  As they get older they need to start thinking and making more decisions on their own.  Having the confidence to think on their own, make choices and use their verbal skills to express themselves tells us that they are growing up.  Unfortunately, much of the way classrooms are taught is not encouraging critical or creative thinking and the same may be true in the home.

There are some experts that put the blame on a change in culture – with all of the attention on the amount of media and the internet that young people are exposed to and seem to be addicted to.  However if we as parents and teachers are inclined to tell youngsters what to do and what to think and not teach them how to think about what they are doing – we end up with students who are not creative or able to think through why certain behaviors are better for them than others.  They expect for others to tell them what to do – and they expect that if it doesn’t fit their model they will fight about it.  Here are two suggestions to get that critical and creative thinking going.

1.    Expect students to explain their opinions – Everyone of us has the need to be heard and we want others to know what we think and feel, including children.  As parents it is important to hear our children, but we should also expect that they explain to us how they came to these opinions. Having them explain – we will hear some very interesting thought processes – but that is important, so we can demonstrate other points of view.  Working the conversations in this manner will help them use their brain to think of other options.

2.   Demonstrate for them how to think and to be creative – Not all answers that we come up with are going to be the best answers, they may not be what is best for us or others, they may not be safe or fair.  This does not mean that they are not answers, this is about being creative.  When a difficult decision needs to be made, allow all of the answers to be heard – no matter how far-fetched and then think and talk through the positive and negative aspects of each one.

What does this have to do with confidence?  Confidence comes from our ability to think, to see things as they are – not more or less difficult than they really are.  Confidence comes from being able to be creative and come up with solutions that may not be expected.  Teaching our children to think – critically and creatively will go a long way to building their confidence.

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Practicing confidence just like my students

handshake2This is rather personal in that I am guessing that most people that are acquaintances, would never guess this about me – unless I told them.  I find it very hard to walk into a room with people I do not know and quickly start up conversations and be comfortable.  Are there others in our community like that?

It is interesting that as I am talking to students about building and demonstrating confidence – this is certainly one area that is a weakness for me personally.  So this week I told the students about my weakness and reminded them and myself that “confidence comes from competence & competence comes from practice”.

Our practice this week was getting the words right and practicing introducing ourselves to each other.  Then just to work on our courage, some of the students went up to adults in the studio (who are parents of other students) and practiced introducing themselves to them.  They did a great job.  Good eye contact, firm handshake, using the correct words.

Even when we sometimes feel unsure of ourselves when we are around people we do not know,  practicing and putting ourselves out there is courageous and powerful.  My next time to practice is Tuesday September 16 when I will be at the Board of Education Breakfast to listen to the new School Superintendent.  I must practice what we have been talking about in our classes.

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Healthy risk taking can build confidence

Introducing-Kids-New-FoodThe most difficult part of parenting that I can think of right this minute is how to know when to help your child to take a risk.  Taking risks is a part of growing up and children begin the process at a very young age.  In fact it is the characteristic of confidence that allows a child or anyone to take risk.  Some are more willing, almost too willing to risk and others are more reticent.

When dealing with risks our children want to learn to determine whether it is a healthy or unhealthy risk.  Healthy risks might include for a young child trying a new food or activity.  Even meeting a new person can feel like a risk to a child that has not gotten comfortable with that situation.  How we handle that can determine if we are willing to try another “risky event” at another time.

Even though we do not feel confident there are things we can do to make it easier to take the risk.  Talking to a mentor or a friend may offer the support they need to try something new. Or finding an affirmation that a child can say to themselves may give them the confidence to move forward.

In the end one of the best ways to gain or maintain confidence is by practicing.  We said in an earlier post, “Confidence comes from competence.”  If you are good at something you will be confident about that action.  The way you get more comfortable and good at any activity is by practice.

Adults and parents have to remember that our children are learning from us too.  In other words, are we willing to take “risks” and are they healthy ones – like what kind of food we will eat, or trying a new game or activity.  As a parent helping our children define boundaries that define risks in safe environments versus dangerous ones is one of the ways that parents can help their children.

driving-safelyOn the other hand if children see us take risks that are dangerous – speeding, running lights, health decisions, drug or alcohol use, it is far more likely that they will model what they have seen their parents do.

What if our child is not willing to take a risk – like meeting new people? Talking with them in a dialog, not speeches or lectures, learning how they are feeling and giving them time and experience may be helpful in overcoming the fears that are stopping them from healthy risks.

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Which is better – Confidence from praise or encouragement?

Praise-1

Where does confidence come from?  Especially self-confidence?  When I asked a group of students this question we received many different answers, but the one that concerned me the most was – “when others complement us”.   The long term effect of too much praise is not confidence, it can end up in dependance.

This does not mean that praise is out – in fact, praise is an important part of demonstrating to our children or anyone for that matter our admiration for them and even our affection.  But with too much praise for too little effort, children especially can become as dependent on praise as their motivating factor as they can on sugar.  Nothing wrong with sugar – a little bit – but too much is so bad for us.  Too much praise creates a child that is only willing to do just enough to get by with mediocre effort, rather than independent with the ability to set goals and put in the time and effort to reach the goal based on self discipline.

Allow me to give you a grown up example of how getting use to praise for the work we do results in a dependency on praise rather than self – motivation and discipline.  How many of us have seen individuals who were conditioned athletes who became dependent on being in the limelight, receiving the admiration of others – who after losing that trigger, no longer took care of themselves physically and simply turned into couch potatoes?  This is not limited to professional athletes – it includes anyone who has been rewarded for victories and accomplishments and then became dependent on that kind of praise to motivate themselves to stay in shape.

The exact same thing can happen to a child who becomes dependent on external praise to build their confidence.  When the praise is not coming in enough quantity or for an act that they come to believe they should get it for – they give up, not interested in the activity or feel like a less valuable person – resulting in even deeper issues.

What is the answer?

  • Look for the good in our children
  • Praise the effort and the behavior
  • Emphasize self-pride for accomplishments rather than external rewards
  • Focus on the process of learning*
  • Communicate expectations for self (goal setting)

One more thought on the process of learning.  Praising for the final accomplishment – trophy / blue ribbon / new belt in Martial arts / leads a child down the path that they ‘have to win or be better than everyone around them’.  They may develop warped values regarding fairness to the point that they are discouraged from trying or continuing their quest.

Learning a new skill, whether it is physical like riding a bike or swimming,  mental like reading or doing math or social like sharing or conflict resolution – all of these require gradual steps that build on each other. Encouraging our children to enjoy this process or ‘practice’ by praising that effort and the incremental improvements, support their growth in learning, excelling and being confident.

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Confidence is believing in ourselves

Be careful of over-confidence

Be careful of over-confidence

Confidence is one of the things that martial arts schools in particular tout as the quality that your child will get if they take part in their classes.  Building confidence is not about martial arts any more than it is about dance, gymnastics, playing an instrument or soccer.   It is about feeling competent in a practice you have chosen to take part in.   Recently a mom was telling me that her daughter who is being tutored in math is getting better at math and she sees a real growth in confidence.  I would agree – when we become more competent we stop putting ourselves down (compassion for ourselves) and we do not feel like others are looking at us in a bad light – we are proud of ourselves.  We do not need others to tell us we are good, we just know we are.

For a child or an adult what does confidence feel like?  When any of us are confident with a task or in ourselves there is a special energy or strength we feel.  As one student said, “in soccer I want to be the last to shoot penalty shots.  I am sure I will score and win for our team.”  There is a certainty that we literally can feel in our body.

As a parent we cannot give our child confidence.  We can however nurture their special interests.  While we may not understand their interest in dinosaurs – if a child has an interest or passion and are able to demonstrate their expertise, they are more likely to be successful in other areas of their life.  Accepting that and not pushing them to do what we think they should be interested in is part of our parenting in a manner to help them to grow.  Of course we want to expose them to a variety of activities.  But finding the one they are passionate about is key to growing confidence.

In the martial arts we can especially gain confidence for a number of reasons and in a variety of ways.  Students will get stronger physically, be able to demonstrate moves and other skills.  Students will learn to set goals and reach them and they will learn to help others.  Encouraging them in the aspects that they love is a way of building confidence. 

Becoming a black belt is a process that results in a confident person – no matter the age.  I encourage our students to be a black belt in life, which means always doing your best, being optimistic and creative, and persevering until you reach your goal.  Those skills and characteristics will work well – no matter what your passion is.

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