I’ve written before about building confidence in children. Confidence is built on the other side of experience. We only achieve that feeling of being confident once you’ve done the thing or activity we resisted against or didn’t believe we could do.
Yet as parents we can often get caught in wanting to push our children into something without taking the time to think: What is it I want from this?
Whilst some of us define it as procrastination or perfectionism, let’s begin to notice what feelings you have when you lack confidence. And with that in your mind, I would like you to explore the words you use as you conjure up that feeling. Because, and this is my proposition to you, I believe you will find you use words such as: scared, worried, anxious, shy or even terrified. Before we can be confident we have to go through those feelings first.
It was with my son that we explored the feelings he had about joining his school’s scratch orchestra. I want to highlight to you what I brought to his attention too.
Check What You Really Want to Achieve
He plays the trumpet. And his teacher was enthusiastic for him to join the school’s lunchtime orchestra. When I asked him if he would be going along he said he didn’t want to because he was shy. I felt that it would help him improve as a player and enjoy playing the trumpet more. However with each week, he would say he didn’t go because he felt too shy. Whilst I gently asked him to go or enquired what he was shy about, we still didn’t making any headway. He still wasn’t going.
So, I took the time to reflect what it was I wanted to achieve. Obviously it was the reasons above but what did that mean for me? What was it I was focusing on?
Absolutely I was looking to see him improve playing the trumpet, to experience playing with the orchestra and give him an extra level of appreciation for playing in general.
Yet when I really examined what I wanted to achieve, it became clearer and simpler to explain to myself and therefore to him.
It had nothing to do with the orchestra or trumpet but everything to do with breaking through the shyness. To not be a prisoner to his feelings. To not let these feelings get in his way, or in any way impede him in the future. Once I removed the orchestra as the outcome, I could make it clear that it was this fear threshold I wanted him to step through. You can read How to Build a Positive Reference Library for Your Child’s Mind to see why I believe stepping through this is so important.
“Self-esteem is the only defence against the world.” – Gary Vaynerchuk
I felt that he had an opportunity for him to make a choice between letting shyness limit him – in effect fear – or stepping through and finding out what it was like. Then either he could attend or not attend. It was far less important to me than him not being a prisoner to those limiting feelings.
I found it useful to just audit myself to see where my priorities were. What was I trying to achieve? What was I trying to help him with? When I moved or chunked up from the level of ‘go to the orchestra’, I found the simple observation but I just didn’t want him to be held captive by shyness. To learn more about the useful technique of ‘chunking’, check out this article: How to Win/Win Arguments with Children.
I spoke to him again and completely retold him my thoughts. And I began with, “I don’t want you to be a prisoner to shyness, or let it ever dictate a decision”.
“Do not go gentle into that good night” – Dylan Thomas
The next week he let me know proudly that he’d gone and he’d enjoyed it. I applauded him for his committing to it, adding how proud I was he did it in spite of his reservation.
What Happens When You Stop Being a Pushy Parent
He now has one more reference book in his library of life that tells him not to be shy not to be fearful and that on the other side of those feelings lies happiness and hopefully achievement. Because the simple act of committing, of following through and not giving into the fear is the building blocks, the foundation for confidence and self-esteem.
I think there’s a useful lesson from this. We can often get caught up in the principle of doing something: he has a trumpet; he has lessons; he has opportunity to learn more; let’s make that happen at all costs. And while yes, there are benefits to his performance, if we can reflect and think what it is we’re trying to achieve, what at the end of the day is our purpose our outcome, we may find a better way to communicate and express our feelings
So here are some tips I invite you to consider next time you hit some resistance, or all of compliance from your child.
I will add that If you feel that your child is worrying a lot or is overly anxious especially about decision making then I’d highly recommend reading 6 Ways to Help Your Child Beat Worry as it’s packed with really useful ways to reduce their anxiety and worry.
3 Steps to Better Understand Your Child (and yourself)
1. Start by asking your child, “What is it about X that is stopping you?” The important part of this question is the word, “What”. If we start out asking a ‘Why’ question, we quickly feel judged and can struggle to come up with an answer. Whereas a ‘What’ question offers the chance for a number of reasons. This is far more useful in creating a solution. For example, “What is it about going to soccer practice you don’t like?” More often than not it is something specifically happening at soccer practice which is causing the resistance. You may need to repeat asking the question as you delve closer to heart of the issue.
2. Then you can ask yourself, “What is it I hope to achieve?”. “What’s my purpose with this event or situation?”. Perhaps we don’t need to be hung up on soccer practice, but our intention is for our child to compete in a sport and get some more exercise. From this you already begin to understand that it’s not the specific activity of soccer but you just want to see them doing any activity. So rather than pushing consider saying, “Well I’d like you to have an activity you can do on a regular basis, let’s find something else instead”.
3. If you find that the shyness or a fear is the issue, then, taking my example, you can explain to your child openly what it is you’re ultimately looking to achieve. It may not be the soccer practice but rather that you don’t want them to be worried or fearful. Perhaps suggest to try it for an agreed period of time and if they don’t like it. That way they can make a decision based from experience instead of fear.
Try this out with something you’re battling with either with yourself or with your child. Play around with my suggestions and find what feels good for you. Will this work every time? Absolutely not. But will it give you better results more often. Absolutely.
One more thing…
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