There’s so much I want for my children. I mean, the list is kind of exhausting. I want them to have at least one good friend for every life stage, and if I’m honest, I’d like for them to find that in each other. I want them to be strong and healthy and cavity-free. I want them to be technologically adept but not addicted to screens. I want them to be husbands who listen well, who take out the trash, fix dinner on occasion, and believe in equality for their wives. I want them to be compassionate, wise leaders with boldness to take action as well as an empathy to be still. I want them to be employees who work hard because they want to. I want them to know themselves well. (See? I told you it’s exhausting. And it’s not even exhaustive.)
But when I look for the common thread among my long list of hopefuls, I find a theme: confidence. I want them to be confident men. Actually, I would go so far as to say that it’s my job to instill in my children a healthy confidence. As parents, there are so many things we can’t influence or control, but we can give them a solid start with healthy self-esteem and self-awareness. By taking a few intentional steps each day, we can foster a fertile ground for our children’s self-confidence as well as the ability to build up others when they’re feeling down.
1. Be generous with praise
But not too generous. It’s a fine line. A child who is constantly criticized will begin to question his ability and worth, but too many compliments can make a child think too highly of himself and too little of others. Give your child compliments just because, and offer suggestions for how they might get stronger as well.
2. Give hugs
A respected family therapist, Virginia Satir, very famously said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” A hug has a near-immediate impact on a person’s mood, stress levels, and heart rate, and hugging has as much benefit for the giver as the receiver. A simple hug goes a long way to remind your child that she’s not alone, that you care, and that emotions are safe and welcome.
3. Ban name-calling
When we get down on ourselves or when tensions rise, people have a tendency to resort to negativity. You can create a safe environment at home by limiting the negativity and eliminating words that are unsafe (fat, ugly, stupid, worthless, etc.). Don’t let anyone call anybody names – including themselves. Be a good role model by speaking kindly about yourself as well.
4. Put your phone down
The first interaction of the day can be the most influential for the rest of the day. When your child wakes for the day, be ready and available for eye contact and a smile. When you pick your little ones up from school, hang up the phone before you get in the carpool lane. Let them know they matter to you—more than social media updates, political headlines, and the stock market.
5. Provide challenges
When children overcome small obstacles, they establish their own belief in themselves. Instead of solving your child’s problems, show them they are capable of solving their own. Instead of answering their questions, point them to their own discovery. Watch them grow in their understanding of the world—and themselves.
6. Teach them how to handle and resolve conflict
The world needs people who can handle hard things, and we can teach our kids how to lean into the problem instead of running away from it. Welcome your children’s emotions as healthy as long as they are respectful, and teach them how to listen and argue well. This can become the basis of any real relationship as they grow.
Kids who have positive feelings about themselves are better equipped and have an easier time dealing with the challenges and conflicts of life. Research has shown that a higher self-esteem is one of the greatest defenses against bullying, and children who believe positive things about themselves are better able to maintain healthy relationships as they get older. Take a few small steps every day to engage your children, lift them up, and gain a positive sense of their well-being. With a healthy sense of confidence, you’re setting them up to win at life.
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Tricia Lott Williford is a remarried widow, a writer, teacher, reader, and thinker, and the author of three books. Thousands of readers join her each morning for a cup of coffee as they sign online to read today’s funny, poignant stories that capture the fleeting moments of life. She collects words, quotes, and bracelets, and she lives in Denver with her husband and two sons. You can get to know Tricia through her regular posts at tricialottwilliford.com.