In our 21st century world of selfie-sticks and trophies-even-for-last-place, we may believe our kids’ self-esteem is plenty high — maybe too high. But that’s not the same thing as self-confidence. Building authentic self-confidence and independence begins in our homes. It takes discipline, consistency, and a constant adaptability. It’s not easy, but it may be the single overall most important goal for us to achieve as parents. With self-confidence comes the ability to take on any task, even when it doesn’t come easy. If you’re doing it right, you’ll find you’ve decreased a lot of chaos too. Here are some secrets to success, and kudos to Bruce Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families for the inspiration:
1. Praise the effort
Many kids act like they’re having dental surgery the moment it doesn’t come easy. Others want to click buttons in front of a screen — and that’s about it. When you can get them to try something — or force them to — praise the effort. Effort focuses on their grit, their determination, and it’s what they have control over. Praising effort teaches them the lifelong lesson that everything is not going to come easy, but they can do it.
2. Create a morning checklist
The morning school routine is crazy-making. Collaborate as a family on a list. Make it practical. Make it big. Make it look cool. Let them draw a big sunshine. Let them check boxes. If they participate in creating the list, they’ll take ownership. (1) Eat breakfast, (2) Put on deodorant, (3) Do morning chores, (4) Cook bacon and eggs for your parents, etc. When they start wandering around like the Walking Dead, direct them back to the list. Give it a couple of weeks. Go back to the list and make adjustments as needed. You cut down on chaos, and build self-efficacy.
3. Family dinner time doesn’t matter
It’s not when, but what you talk about when you do sit down that matters. The data about the power of the family dinner is staggering. You can virtually improve every aspect of family life just by sitting down to regular dinners. So why don’t more Americans do it? For many, schedules just don’t allow it. Then figure out times that do work and stick to them. Even once a week. Gather at 8:00 for dessert. Gather in the morning for a big breakfast. Do takeout if you don’t have time to cook. Getting together makes everyone feel important, cared about and loved. And that’s how you build you some self-confidence.
4. Shift from “me” to “we”
At least once a week, everyone should get together and assess how things are going. However, instead of asking “What went right in your life this week?” ask “What worked well in our family this week?” Also be sure to ask what didn’t go well, and direct them to the coming week. “What do we need to work on?” The focus on “we” empowers children. They own their participation, and they feel listened to. Parents also avoid the pitfall of trying to be all-knowing (might as well let that cat out of the bag).
5. Connect them to a larger family narrative.
21st century families have shed a lot of rules that governed the ways we once did things. But there’s an identity vacuum right now. One thing that gives our children a sense of identity, purpose and self-esteem is to connect them to their extended family’s story. Kids who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges. They have a stronger sense of belonging to something bigger. Family stories can focus on success, defeat, or both. They don’t have to be religious, but rituals of one kind or another are essential. If they aren’t embedded within the family already, seek ways to create (and stick to) your own.