Okay, right away we know I’ve over-promised! There aren’t three simple steps to anything in parenting, but there are some things we can do to build confidence in our children.
1) Give children meaningful tasks that contribute to the the good of the family and the community.
A recent article from NPR explains the advice of certified parent educator and mother of three Katherine Reynolds Lewis:
Children today are too "unemployed." She doesn't simply mean the occasional summer job for a high school teen. The term is a big tent, and she uses it to include household jobs that can help even toddlers build confidence and a sense of community. "They're not asked to do anything to contribute to a neighborhood or family or community," Lewis tells NPR in a recent interview. "And that really erodes their sense of self-worth — just as it would with an adult being unemployed."
While Lewis approaches this from a secular perspective, it is exactly what we would expect from reading our Bibles. All humans were made to create and serve, and giving children opportunity to do this from their earliest days allows them to situate themselves properly in the world. (By the way, middle school parents, we’ll talk about this article more on October 17 at 8:00 AM. Hope to see you there!)
2) Use role-play to teach the basic social interactions children need.
I’m amazed at how often I expect my children to be able to navigate difficult and complex social settings they haven’t experienced before. I suppose I expect them to pick up social skills simply by living life, but that’s not reasonable. I need to instruct them.
Earlier this year Mr. Harris taught his eighth grade boys the simple skill of giving a good, firm handshake. When I walked into his classroom, he had each student greet me, look me in the eye, shake my hand, and introduce himself by name. The boys were so proud of their newfound skill, and it struck me how well this will serve them going forward.
We can do the same thing in other areas. We can role-play what to do if one student is picking on another or how to respond if a student pulls out a device with inappropriate images. By practicing how to handle these things ahead of time, we imbue our children with confidence. Not only do they expect the situations to happen, but they are prepared for them when they do.
3) Embrace failure as an opportunity for children to internalize the gospel.
It’s no secret in my house - my children aren’t very fast at math speed drills. They practice and practice, but they struggle to get the answer from their brain to the paper fast enough. It crushes them. So what do I say? My knee-jerk response is to minimize the value of the speed drill. “This isn’t math! This is just memory-work. So don’t worry about it!” That response is problematic for a few reasons. Even if it’s true, it simply shifts their failure from math to memory work, and more importantly it doesn’t erase the shame and embarrassment they feel. Not only that, it undermines the teacher. There are good reasons to be quick at recalling math facts, and my children need to learn this important skill.
A much more profitable response that leads to confidence is to talk about the gospel. I had a conversation something like this with my daughter, and it really seemed to make a difference.
“You’re really embarrassed, aren’t you? Did you know that feeling is called ‘shame’? Shame feels awful, doesn’t it? Did you know that your Daddy has felt shame before? In fact, I still do. You know, there’s someone else who felt shame, even worse shame than you or I have ever felt. Jesus felt shame. You know how your teacher has told you about Jesus on the cross? Well, think how embarrassing it was for him. Everyone was yelling at him and making fun of him, and he didn’t deserve any of it! Do you know why he went through all of this? It was because he loved you and me so much! So when I feel shame, when I’m not good enough, do you know what allows me to get through it? It’s knowing that Jesus knows how I feel and loves me no matter what. He will never stop loving you even if you never get good at math drills.”
The answer to failure isn’t to suggest that we’re really good enough, after all. That path only leads to crushed confidence. No, it’s to be reminded that in spite of our failure we’re forever loved! And that leads to an everlasting confidence. Our Lord will continue loving us and never stop working in us (Phil. 1:6).
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