Have you ever stopped your child from trying something because you were afraid they might get hurt or because you thought they’d fail? Does this sound familiar? “Get down off that rock.” “Don’t go so high in that tree.” “How about you try an easier sport?” I know I’ve said these words before. And you know what, every time I stop my child from attempting something new, risky, or challenging… every time we step in the way of their little life adventures, we are taking one more step away from raising a confident child.
Kids’ self-esteem is a hot topic these days. When we talk about bullying, the over-entitled teen, gender issues, free-range parenting, it always boils down to discussing a child’s self-worth. I can’t give you the sure way to raise a confident child. Parenting is way more complex that that. Instead I’m going to share with you a mistake I recently made and one easy step to raising a confident child.
One very simple answer is to give childen the freedom to challenge themselves.
When you give kids freedom to take risks they learn. Kids learn their limits. Kids use their bodies to keep themselves safe. Kids make mistakes that teach them what they need to do differently. More importantly, when they succeed, they experience a sense of self-accomplishment and their confidence increases.
Let your kids challenge their bodies
The whole reason I wanted to write this article was to share my daughter’s recent accomplishment which I have to admit I didn’t think she could do.
Last weekend we went on a family adventure. Now, this wasn’t just any little walk. It was an 8.2km hike with close to 700 meters (2100 feet) of elevation gain. As soon as you start, the trail begins to climb. After about 30 minutes I was hot and breathing hard. I looked at my husband and suggested that perhaps we over-estimated our 6 year’s old’s ability and underestimated the difficulty of this walk. He shrugged. And he was right to do so. There was no pressure on her to finish this hike. We would go as far as she wanted, then turn back. We’d leave it up to her.
To be honest, I didn’t think we’d make it to the top. She proved me wrong on that day. Only a little encouragement was needed. At the very top, the wind picked up and the rocks were loose under our feet. My daughter only then started to question how much further and asked to stop. We held her hand and went slowly. It was completely normal for her to question her safety. We showed her the safe way to choose her steps and how to face away from the wind.
It was her choice. If she didn’t want to continue, we would turn back. No guilt trips, no bargaining. My husband and I would rather a happy hiker than one who’s crying or whining or dragging her feet.
She chose to keep going. Yes, she was scared for a few minutes at the top, but when we showed her over the edges and she relaxed, she was soon beaming…. Announcing so everyone could hear, that she was definitely the youngest person at the top of the mountain. She didn’t need us to say we were proud of her. She was proud of herself!
Maybe you don’t have mountains to climb with your kids, but the playground, the skate park, and the ice rink can just as easily provide the physical challenges they need.
Angela Hanscomb asserts that kids who are provided with the opportunity to challenge their bodies and assess their own risk levels will actually be safer in the long run. The point is that unless you start allowing your kids to take the small risks and accumulate small accomplishments, then they won’t have the confidence to tackle the bigger risks and learn how to assess their skills and safety in order to achieve the bigger successes.
How to support their challenges? Try This:
I shared with you an example of a physical challenge, but challenges can be emotional, and interpersonal too. A challenge is anything they see as difficult.
The next time you see your child attempt something that might be challenging or request your assistance in something that they can likely do themselves, consider your words before speaking. Think about their motivations? Do they need your help because they want your company or attention, or are they thinking they are incapable of the task at hand? What is the likeliness of them hurting themselves if they attempt their risky actions?
Again, remember that challenge and risk is all relative. Getting dressed, making pasta, climbing a tree, and speaking to the store clerk can be scary or difficult and an obstacle your little one can grow from conquering.
I’ll leave you with a 5 phrases we use often in our house:
- Wow, you must be proud of yourself!
- How did that feel?
- Do you want me to hang out with you while you try to do it yourself?
- I’m worried you might get hurt. How do you feel about this?
- I’m sorry that happened to you. What can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
Helping kids grow to be more independent and self-confident can also mean we have to let them go… and believe me, I know, this can be hard. I dare you to try it. Knowing that your child can potentially hurt themselves or seeing them crumple with tears of defeat is very scary and hard for parents. But try, and see what greatness they can achieve. You might be surprised like I was!
P.S. If you’ve enjoyed the practical tips in this article and you’d love to know more about helping your children thrive and grow, you can join the Take Them Outside Club. You’ll receive tips, advice, and goodies delivered right to your inbox. Getting families into nature is such an important aspect to raising healthy, well-balanced children…. And we’re all about that! You can also join us on our Facebook page.
Check out the other articles in the ‘Being Nurtured by Nature’ series:
- The Best Stimulation for baby | Cheap and Easy Stimulation Ideas
- Growing outdoor kids with Take Them Outside
- The Picky Eater | Quick and Dirty Solutions
- Your Kids Need Outdoor Active Play, Not Indoor Play Gyms