Recent research from the Queensland Family and Child Commission shows that only 10% of parent are regularly asking for assistance or advice in parenting. This means that 90% are struggling with the challenges kids bring on their own. There are a number of ways to reach out for help and here are some pointers from the Parenting Ideas blog.
1. Start with family and friends. You need between three and five trusted, non-judgemental people who you can call on for help. Count how many you have right now. If you fall short, look for ways to build your social capital.
2. Add a layer of organizational support such as professionals and organisations that educate, care for and coach/teach your children. Add carers, teachers, coaches and other adults to your list.
3. Find counseling, parent education services and professional assistance services whether paid or free (such as Parentline) that you can go to when you need significant assistance. Foster a relationship with a professional (general practitioner, psychologist, specialist in a child’s disorder, social worker) that you can trust that you can return to over time.
4. Follow a voice you can trust. Part of modern parental stress comes from the plethora of information about raising kids. Answering the basic question “Am I doing a good job?” is now super-confusing. Parenting is now an industry, with many well-intentioned ‘experts’ who don’t always give wise, informed or research-backed advice. As someone who has been helping parents full-time for over twenty years, the paucity of good advice available right now concerns me greatly! Choose expertise wisely.
5. Don’t blaze trails. Many parents think like the Lone Ranger, they are blazing a trail through uncharted territory. Raising twins on your own? You’re not the first. Got a child with ADHD, another with autism and your 15 year old wants to get a tattoo? You’re not the first. Seek out like-minded parents or experienced professionals who have been down these paths, or have helped people navigate similar situations and get their perspectives. Trail-blazers are easily lost.
Then we look to Aha Parenting for the following ideas for those 90% that still find it difficult to reach out, here are 10 ways to raise competent and confident kids.
1. Stop controlling and start coaching. Coaches help kids develop skills, but kids play the game. Your job as a parent is to support your child so she can flourish and develop. Doing things FOR her robs her of the opportunity to become competent. Doing things WITH her teaches her how and builds confidence.
2. Remember that perfection is not the goal. Resist the temptation to “improve” on your child’s task, unless the outcome is vitally important. Constant intervention undermines a child’s confidence.
3. Let him try to do it himself from the earliest age. Rein in your own anxiety. That doesn’t mean abandoning him to it. Stand by, smiling, ready to be helpful in whatever way actually helps your child — BUT keep your mouth shut and your hands to yourself except to give appropriate encouragement, unless you REALLY need to help.
Clucking anxiously about how worried you are as he climbs that play structure may make you feel better, and it may impress the other parents on the playground with your attentiveness, but it won’t help your child. In fact, it unintentionally limits him. Just ask if he is keeping himself safe, then stand by and spot him. Smile proudly. Say “Look at you! I knew you could do it!” (And if he falls, you’re there to catch him. Which is, after all, what allowed him to try it.)
4. Help her build confidence by tackling manageable challenges with your assistance. Emotional development researchers call this “scaffolding,” which could be defined as the framework you give your child on which she builds. You demonstrate how to do something, or you use words to suggest a strategy, or you simply spot her. This assistance helps her to succeed when she tries something new, and small successes achieved with your help give her the confidence to try new things herself. Scaffolding also teaches children that help is always available if they need it. You want your kids to know that deep in their bones before they hit adolescence.
5. Don’t set him up for failure. Offer structure to help him succeed. Should you step in when you see failure ahead, or “let him learn a lesson”? Always a hard call. Rescuing children can prevent them from learning important lessons. But research shows that children who see their parents stand by and let them fail experience that as not being loved. Instead of learning the lesson that they should have practiced that clarinet, or read the directions on that science kit, they learn the lesson that they are failures, that they cannot manage themselves, and that their parents did not care enough to help them not be failures or teach them to manage themselves.
But isn’t stepping in “rescuing them?” That all depends on how it’s done. If you take over the science fair project and do half of it the night before it’s due, that’s worse than rescuing: not only does your son learn that you will bail him out if he goofs off, he learns that he is incompetent.
But if you help him each step of the way to organize his ideas and his work, BUT resist the impulse to improve on the project yourself, he completes the job, hugely proud, and having learned something about how to plan and execute a complex project.
6. Praise effort, not results. “I see you worked so hard on this.” “Wow! You didn’t give up!” Of course it isn’t perfect. She’s a child. And even if it is great, the point is never the product — you don’t want her resting on her laurels at the age of six, or sixteen. Your goal is for her to keep trying, practicing, improving, and for her to learn that hard work pays off.
7. Teach self-encouragement. Model maxims to repeat as mantras when the going gets tough. “Practice makes progress!” and “If you don’t succeed, try, try again!” and “I think I can, I think I can!” are designed to help us manage our frustration. When your son goofs a piece on the piano and has to start over, or your daughter strikes out with the bases loaded, they need an automatic internal comforting voice to encourage and motivate them. Otherwise the harsh criticizing voice steps in, triggered by the disappointment.
8. Model positive self-talk. Positive self-talk has been shown to improve our ability to master difficult tasks, unlike the self-disparaging comments many of us so automatically make. If something negative about your child — or, equally important, about yourself — starts to come out of your mouth, bite your tongue. Most parents know better than to say “What an idiot!” to their child (and most of them are able to stop themselves), but a surprising number see nothing wrong with berating themselves that way in front of their kids. Whatever you model, your child will learn and will emulate. Just train yourself not to do it. (It certainly isn’t good for you, either. Would you let anyone else talk to you that way?)
9. Manage frustrating circumstances. When your child encounters frustration, remember that your empathy will be a critical factor in his overcoming it. You don’t have to remove the source of the frustration, but you do want to give it a larger context by communicating your confidence in your child, and your compassion that he has to encounter this circumstance.
Parents are often told that frustration is good for kids, since the world will be full of frustrations. That’s a bit like saying that it’s a cold, cruel world so your child should learn to sleep without blankets. It’s true that we all learn from overcoming challenges, but we also learn best when we experience success, which motivates us to tackle more difficult challenges. Mastery begets mastery. Failure sets up a cycle of lack of confidence, giving up and more failure.
Your child will naturally develop the ability to handle increasing amounts of frustration and anxiety as he attempts more difficult challenges. But those frustrations are inherent in growing up and are guaranteed aplenty in life. There is no benefit whatsoever to setting your child up for extra frustration or negative experience. In fact, he will see your doing so as evidence of your lack of caring, which is always translated in his mind as his lack of value, and which therefore undermines his confidence.
10. Affirm your child’s ability to impact the world. Competence and feelings of mastery are about power and derive from a child’s experience of herself as having an effect on the world. “If I stand on the stool, I can flip this light switch and light up the room!” All children will experience reasonable limits to their power (“I can’t make the rain stop, and neither can Mommy”), but the more your child has opportunities to make a difference in the world, the more she will see herself as capable.
Studies have shown that kids who are encouraged think for themselves, expected to meet behavioural standards and be responsible for their own actions, by authoritative parents, fair better than the children of parents who are either too permissive or too demandingly authoritarian. In the end the goal of parenting it to produce kids that grow up to be well rounded, confident adults that are an attribute, as opposed to a detriment, to society. In the words of Magic Johnson “all kids need is a little help, a little hope and somebody who believes in them.”