They Can Be Heroes
An innate sense of confidence is something we’re born with. It gives us the curiosity to explore this new and exciting world we’ve come into, the courage to take our first steps and the ability to try new things without fear of failure. It allows us to giggle when we fall down and get up and try again, to move on to the next adventure and leave the past behind. Somehow, though, confidence often begins to fade as we get older; we become more tentative and more prone to anxiety and stress.
Somewhere along the way, we start to question ourselves, begin to worry about what others think and give our personal power over to perfect strangers. Somehow, we become vulnerable and uncertain and this reduces our opportunities for love, happiness and contentment.
One of the greatest gifts we can give our children, then, is the skills to minimise their vulnerability through a strong sense of self-confidence. Keeping our children confident as they grow can make a world of difference in the way they deal with life’s ups and downs and how they cultivate success in all aspects of their lives. Confidence, while an elusive concept to define, as it can mean various things to different people, is something that invariably makes us feel good and gives us energy and the sense that there are boundless opportunities out there for us.
Confidence is an attribute we all find attractive and desirable. When a person is confident, they have faith in their own abilities, trust their judgement and aren’t worried about handling new situations. Having confidence makes us more open and outgoing, more straightforward, trusting, reliable and determined. So how do we go about ensuring our children have the best foundations to build and maintain confidence? How do we give them the ability to cope with the hurts of everyday life so that these inevitable hurdles leave minimal scarring?
There’s a number of things we can do as parents to assist in our children’s development, but many of them require us to pay closer attention to the things we do and say about our own experiences as well as the way we speak and act towards our children. A conscious decision to observe ourselves can pay huge dividends for our kids and their futures.
One of the ways in which we’re able to help our children maintain their natural confidence is to provide role models for them, the most powerful being ourselves. When we lack confidence, it can be reflected back to our children, so building confidence in yourself will help you build the same in your children.
For most experts in the field of psychology, the reason we so often lack confidence is that we seem to forget our past successes. Yet confidence is always boosted when we recall moments when we have done well or have them recalled by others. Even as we try something new, remembering that we have been in an unfamiliar situation before and came out the other side unscathed is valuable in keeping us strong as we take that first step. So remember the challenges you’ve met and overcome and embrace new ones with these past successes in mind.
Human beings are social creatures and we need to be loved, appreciated and comforted. Associating with people who are positive, non-judgemental and encouraging is crucial to maintaining self-confidence. When we associate with people who make us feel good about ourselves we feel more buoyant, more able to deal with incidents and upsets. When we associate with people who undermine us, who criticise or doubt us, we can begin to feel insecure and our steps become tentative. Making sure we keep our relationships healthy will always boost self-confidence.
Self talk is a powerful tool in our armoury, but many us pay more attention to our negative self-talk than we do our positive self-talk. Shaking off negative self thoughts when they begin to intrude on your consciousness will go a long way toward avoiding that downward spiral of self doubt and self criticism that can stop you in your tracks. It’s extraordinary the power our own thoughts can have on our confidence and self-esteem, so be quick to banish this kind of self deprecation swiftly. Replace it with positive thoughts and constructive criticism.
While it’s important to celebrate successes and recall those moments when we achieved our goals or performed well, it’s also critical to recognise that those times when we didn’t have such wild success are still valuable experiences and shouldn’t be tucked away and hidden. Learning how to deal with failure, says child psychologist Michael Grose, is vital in helping our children to build confidence.
Being able to rethink failure is one of the keys to building confidence. Reframing failures as learning experiences — as a chance to find out what doesn’t work — can be useful. When we can do this, it reduces our fear and increases our confidence to keep trying again. While as adults we generally are more able to distract ourselves or shake off disappointment, children, warns Margot Sunderland, author and Director of Education and Training at the Centre for Child Mental Health in London, often find it overwhelming. So the first part of helping our children to rethink failure and disappointment is to take the time to acknowledge that failure is a painful experience and that feelings of grief, frustration, embarrassment and perhaps anger may need to be worked through.
While talking to children about their failures is a great way to help them through the process of understanding things don’t always work out the way we want them to, it’s sometimes more significant if we can share our own experiences. “There is a propensity to hide failure from our kids,” Grose says. “However, if you always hide it, when do you, or your children, know when you’ve succeeded?”
For Grose, it’s about letting your fallibility show. “Don’t be afraid to talk to your children about how you tried your best but things just didn’t work out.” It can keep children from feeling isolated and helpless when things don’t work out the way they want them to. As confronting as it might be to show your children your failures, says Grose, the effort will go a long way towards helping them to develop a healthy attitude about failure.
“The more warm, unconditional, constant and physically affectionate your relationship is with your child,” writes Sunderland, “the stronger the release of opioids, oxytocin and prolactin in the brain.” These are some of the chemicals associated with love and their influence on our confidence levels is important.
The science of love includes the release of opioids, or pleasure hormones, which are natural morphine-like chemicals created by our bodies. They reduce pain awareness and create feelings of elation. Social contact, particularly touch, induces opioid release, creating good feelings that enhance bonding. Oxytocin is another of these love hormones and it’s also released in the brain in response to social contact, especially skin-to-skin contact. In addition to providing health benefits, this hormone-like substance promotes bonding patterns and creates the desire for further contact with the individual that incited its release.
Prolactin is the hormone produced by the anterior pituitary gland in both men and women. It is known as a gonadotrophic hormone as it affects the gonads (testes and ovaries). In women, it’s also released during and after pregnancy in association with lactation. There are some claims that this hormone is released in both men and women towards the end of a woman’s pregnancy to help parents bond with their child.
The release of these chemicals as a result of the expression of our affection and love towards our children means the child is more likely to feel increasingly at ease and comfortable with themselves, explains Sunderland. “In short, your relationship with your child enables them to develop psychological strength.” This is something that is crucial to being able to turn adversity into opportunity, develop confidence and cope with stressful situations.
We develop confidence as a result of the way others respond to us as well as from our own inner strength. In our children’s early developmental stages, therefore, it’s important to pay attention to our children when they have something to say to us. Children are very perceptive and if we give them only half our attention or dismiss their attempts to converse because we are busy, they will simply clam up. Our inattention can lead to feelings of inadequacy and can make our children feel that we don’t value their contributions.
We are all genetically programmed to need other people, says Sunderland, but bonding doesn’t just occur with parents and family; it occurs throughout life. So moments of rejection, of feeling undervalued or uninteresting, or being made to feel stupid can severely impact on our children’s willingness and ability to be social.
Being social is important for happiness, and an inability to be social not only isolates us and has dire consequences on our mental, emotional and physical health, it feeds a lack of confidence. While having confidence socially doesn’t mean our children have to be the life of every party, it does mean they can make friends, interact easily with people they don’t know and exhibit a curiosity about others that is both appealing and necessary to establish and maintain relationships.
When we read stories in magazines and newspapers about people surviving terrible accidents or days in the wilderness, you can bet it’s resilience that got them through. When you have resilience you can withstand setbacks, rise to any challenge, find new ways of solving problems, gain self-confidence and control over your world and feel comfort in the knowledge that hardship can be overcome.
“Making sure that resilience develops in our children,” explains Grose, “means they can cope with and manage life’s large and smaller hurdles. Some kids will simply bounce back and this is just part of their personality, but others need more help to learn how to take failure in their stride.” So what are the principles of resilience? What should we be attempting to do for our children?
The International Resiliency Project, Directed by Edith Grotberg, investigated the factors used by parents, teachers and carers to develop resilience in young people. The study found that children can build resilience if they have a network of support around them including family and friends; are encouraged to develop inner strengths such as self-esteem, and responsibility; and are shown how to develop problem-solving skills.
Flexibility is also part of resilience and a great skill in building confidence. Teaching our children that they always have options and encouraging them to think about ways to solve problems or resolve situations will help them to build and maintain their confidence. A sense of humour, too, is a key trait of those with a strong sense of resilience: if you can see the lighter side of a situation, it can help to diffuse tension and even give you a fresh perspective on how a situation might be resolved.
In good times and bad
When things are going well, our self-confidence naturally seems to rise. It’s when things aren’t going so well that the lessons we can teach our children will kick in and help them to overcome adversity. Optimism, valuing self, resilience, a sense of humour and flexibility are all keys to helping us to keep going when we feel our confidence slipping.
While it’s impossible to not be affected by the mishaps of life, it is possible to not let them impact on us for long. It’s this point that is at the core of our own and our children’s confidence: a misstep needn’t inform the rest of our lives, nor should it signal that we aren’t capable of great things. Instead, create a glorious patchwork of life’s disappointments and successes and share them. Embrace the achievement of dreams and the comedy of errors that is life.