How can you boost confidence in your kids? And is it necessary? After all, your kids may say they don't care about how they look or whether they make the sports team or the school play. But the odds are, they do. Educational psychologist Michele Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions and the mother of three sons in their 20s, talks with Family Goes Strong about small ways to increase your sons' and daughters' self-esteem. Excerpts:
How can parents stay positive for their kids?
Words do matter. Watch your child. Is there one little quality that's sitting there, dormant? It could be that she has a great sense of humor, or she is kind, or she's got an incredible memory for details. Start acknowledging it. Don't put it into a federal address. It's simple repeated nuggets. "Wow, did you notice how your friend laughed at your jokes?" Add the word "because" to your praise. It takes it up a notch. Keep repeating it for around 21 days. Usually around the 21<sup>st</sup> day, the kid will come up and say, "You've got to put this on the refrigerator. You know how artistic I am." If you only say it once, it only works for a kid who has high self-esteem. The kid who has low self-esteem isn't aware of it or denies the trait. He's so focused on awkwardness.
How do parents make sure they only try to boost their kids' self-esteem with true statements? You don't want to say, "You're such a great pitcher," when the child can barely throw a ball across the plate, right?
Whatever you praise needs to be earned and deserved, or it will backfire. Too lavish and too sugar-coated doesn't work either. Find your child's natural talent. Figure out what your child's passion is. Many times a talent or strength is going to be different from academics.
How should parents handle low grades, which would seem to lower self-esteem?
You use it as a teachable moment. You don't deny it by going. "You're so smart." Say, "I noticed your grade is really low here." Start brainstorming. Say, "What do you think you could do or we could do?" What the child needs to do is not be derailed by it. Let's go have a conference with the teacher. Let's look at the last test. Let's look at something that will help you study better. Very often he's not focusing in on what he should be studying. All of the research says you also praise the child's effort. Emphasize, "You're hanging in there. I know this is hard." If you praise always the data, the end product, it backfires.
What if your child wanted to make a sports team or the school play and didn't?
Is the expectation to make the soccer team realistic when he can't kick the ball? Figure out what's curtailing him from his ability to get on the sports team. You could get a mentor. If he really wants to, quietly talk to the coach. What could he do to improve? What I did was hire a high school kid who was great on the soccer field. He coached them with exactly what he needed to do. It was real specific — what could he do to improve? You really need to break it down to figure out what specific thing the child should be doing.
What about kids who feel bad because they think everyone else is dating?
The best thing that's going on with tweens and teens now is they're not dating one on one. They're going out in groups. It's an advantage. Kids learn best by seeing, not being told.
What about getting rid of glasses? [She consults for Acuvue.]
I'm a former teacher. I've had a number of kids with glasses. They don't want to wear glasses. They don't even want to look at the board with glasses. Their academic performance goes. We know that simple daily disposable contact lenses are a very easy fix for helping kids feel better about themselves. I've seen changes out on the sport field. All of the sudden they're running faster and performing better in a school classroom.
What about kids who feel self-conscious and awkward because of acne?
Sometimes what we do is wait for the kid to come to us. We need to be the one to open up the dialogue. Say, "I got you a dermatologist appointment."
Meanwhile, to boost confidence even more, share some inspirational quotes with your kids. Two of my favorites:
—"Whether you think you can or think you can't - you are right" - Henry Ford
—"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent" — Eleanor Roosevelt
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