Independence is taking on a whole new meaning this Fourth of July as we prepare for my son to begin school this fall. It will be so important for him to feel confident independence on his own in this new environment, especially while managing food allergies. The importance of self-confidence and self-esteem also run deep with me because I was so shy when I was young. Oh, how a little more confidence would have made such a difference!
I've been wondering whether my parenting is preparing him. Am I instilling the values and skills he will need for his soon-to-be new independence? Will he be happy, comfortable and confident as he embarks on this new and important stage in his life?
I believe my answer lies in helping him build a foundation of healthy self-esteem. In order to be happy in his independence, he will need to feel comfortable sticking up for himself. A big part of this is feeling his voice and emotions are important. He needs to believe in his own value.
Building Blocks of Confident Independence
With this in mind, I believe there are five key building blocks that we will need to support confident independence in our children:
- Build them up! Build up their self-esteem; don't chip away at it. I can’t think of anything that hurts self-esteem more than yelling or spanking. Think about how you feel if your spouse—or anyone—yells at, belittles or bullies you. You feel hurt, rejected and, let’s face it, unworthy. Instead, support them! Praise them! Of course, don't focus on doing a “good” job, but instead commend their efforts, focus and hard work. Be positive and encouraging. Don’t criticize or always say “no,” but rather model a “can-do” attitude. Show them what you DO want and help them learn how to do it.
- Really listen. As I often say to my kids, “Let’s put on our listening ears, our seeing goggles and our thinking caps!” Let them know you hear them and that they are important. How? Put down that iPhone. Turn off the television. Get down to their level and look them in the eyes. Reflect back what they're telling you. Let them know their voice is so important and that you hear them and get it! My grandfather, affectionately called Pop-pop, was such a wonderful man. I often recall how he took the time to play with us. My mother said that because he was such a tall and broad man, the minute he came in the door he’d take off his hat and coat and get down on the floor with us—literally on our level. It really makes a difference.
- Validate their feelings. Show kids their voice is important and they deserve to be heard. Ask them about their thoughts and feelings. Include them in decision-making. Empower them to come up with solutions. If something is not working, ask them their opinion on how to change things. This shows them you value them, their ideas and feelings. Never tell them their feelings aren't justified. If they are feeling it, it's real and deserves your attention. There really is no right or wrong with feelings. This validation will go far in helping children manage something huge like their food allergies, as they will learn how to be confident in speaking up and asking for help when they need it.
- Show unconditional love. Show them and tell them how much you love them every day, no matter what is going on. Let them know you will always be there. Do something special for them to show that despite the busyness of the day, you're thinking about them and you care. Try to carve out special, quality time together when you can. I know this is easier said than done, especially if you have more than one child. But help them really feel how much you love and value them.
- Make wonderful memories. Finally, play! Have fun! Be silly! Help them let out any scared or difficult emotions and anxieties so they can feel better and have fun. Creating these memorable times and feelings will build your emotional bond and make healthy deposits in your relationship. They will feel connected and comfortable coming to you when they need to down the road.
At the heart of it, to truly feel confident in their independence, kids need to feel the same things we all need in our most important relationships: unconditional love, understanding, validation, acceptance, care and support.
Do you have tips for building confident independence in our kids? We'd love to hear from you! Check back soon for a discussion about providing the skills kids need to feel capable and empowered!
Image courtesy of Flickr.