Does your child feel you think she is a capable, competent human being with a worthwhile future? This is the second half of question three of our six heart connection questions.
It is very important for children to know we believe in their potential and competence. We need to find ways to let them know we believe they have what it takes. We need to speak positively about their futures in authentic ways. But what do we do if our children are really struggling or noticeably behind their peers? We certainly do not want to make things worse with insensitive or misguided comments. This could be serious. We also need to make sure our heart is in the right place. How do we feel about a having a child who is lagging behind his peers? (Because it is off topic, we are not going to address evaluating the situation, looking for solutions, finding the right resources, etc.)
What concerns us here is what our child thinks about himself, the situation, and our perception of him. First of all, our unconditional love needs to shine through. If it turns out our child is doing his best, we need to encourage and support those efforts. We definitely do not want to bring any judgment or shame. If he is OK with his situation, we might need to make our peace with it as well. We still continue with challenging expectations and gentle pressure to keep our children moving forward, but we might want to adjust things accordingly.
If he is really struggling and upset about this, we need to be there for him. First of all, being behind peers or not being good at something is not automatically a negative. It might not be a negative at all. Every person who ever lived is bad at something. Most children will resist this comforting approach pretty intensely, especially if their social world is competitive. They will assume we are just trying to be nice, and that might make them feel even worse. We could even lose our credibility as useful counselor. We are going to have to be a whole lot more convincing than that.
Depending on the severity of the situation, we probably have some homework to do. Our topic – the late bloomer. If our child actually is a late bloomer, the history of late bloomers is absolutely awesome and inspiring. There are too many stories to count. Talk about putting everything back into perspective. The key is to pick those stories that our child might best relate to. If we were a late bloomer, or if there are late bloomers in the family, or we know one personally, we should start with those stories as long as they are real and authentic.
“I was a disaster in high school. No joke. But I found my place in the world when I was in college. I also found your mother.”
Go to the library, cut out articles, hit the internet, just find the right stories. We should talk things through with our child until all is reasonably OK, and his self-concept is stable. He still might not be happy, but at least he knows we love him and believe in him just as he is. He might wish things were different, but he now realizes no doors have been closed. There are still millions of good possibilities for his life. If all goes well, he will be curious, excited, and hopeful about his life. In the meantime, he will just have to hold on and endure. That is something he now knows always works to the late bloomer’s advantage.
Don’t oversell it. We don’t want the poor guy feeling pressure to become the next Einstein or Michael Jordan.
Winston Churchill took three years to get through the eighth grade.
Albert Einstein did not speak until age four or read until age seven.
Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
Walt Disney was fired because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”
Mark Twain did not reach his full height until age thirty-four.
Healthy attitude towards mistakes and accidents. Honest mistakes and accidents are to be expected. If there is a pattern of unreasonably careless or reckless mistakes and accidents that is a development & discipline issue that must be addressed. Otherwise, we need to accept mistakes and accidents as a normal part of life. Like us, our children are going to make many mistakes and have many accidents. Hopefully, none of them will be too serious.
We don’t ever want our children to associate honest mistakes or accidents with being inadequate or incapable or a loser. If we ridicule, shame, or pull things all out of proportion and yell, that is exactly what is going to happen. We can really hammer our children’s self-image and confidence if we jump all over them when they make an honest mistake. We can actually cripple their desire to learn and master new things if they live in fear of our reaction to their mistakes and accidents. That is the exact opposite of what we are trying to accomplish.
This is yet another situation where we need to be the parents our children need us to be. Having children is a lot of work, and honest mistakes and accidents can happen at really inopportune times. When that happens it is not about our feelings or our inconvenience. It is about walking our children through the situation with encouragement and accountability.
Our seven-year-old daughter spills her milk at dinner.
“NO! (The spilled milk flows across the table.) I can’t believe it! I am such a clumsy idiot!” She is really upset and embarrassed.
“Easy now, Carissa. Accidents happen. No big deal. Just be glad we aren’t in the dining room with the tablecloth. Go get the big sponge.”
Our sixteen year old son breaks the dog dish.
“Sorry, mom. I dropped the dog’s dish and it broke. I guess my hands were too slippery.”
“Were you being careless?” Said gently and calmly with absolutely no judgment.
“Yeah, I should dry my hands before carrying the bowl.”
“Awesome. Make sure you clean it up. I will pay for this one because it seems like an honest mistake, but you are going to the store and get it. Sound fair?”
Sometimes mistakes are part of a process. Without mistakes, nobody would ever learn anything or get better at anything. The best athletes, musicians, artists, etc. tend to make more mistakes than everybody else because they are pushing themselves the hardest. That is another reason our homes need to be a safe place to make honest mistakes. We want our children challenging themselves by learning and trying new things. They need the encouragement and freedom to do that. That does not mean there won’t be any accountability if appropriate, but it does mean that making an honest mistake is OK, even encouraged if you are trying to develop truly capable children.
Healthy attitude towards failure. Let your child know that failure is part of the process towards success – you have not succeeded yet, but you are on your way. You have not truly failed until you give up. (Sometimes giving up is appropriate.)
Thomas Edison had tried 999 elements trying to make his first light bulb when an interviewer asked him how it felt to fail 999 times. Edison replied that he had not failed at all. He now knew 999 elements that did not work. As we all know, Edison did not give up, and he finally found elements that did work.
When toddlers are learning to walk, they fall down many times. I have never met anyone yet who thinks of that as failure. We all know the toddler will get it eventually. It is just a matter of time. Everyone seems more than willing to extend lots of grace and encouragement to a tippy toddler. But for some reason that can change as our children get older. Our expectations can get ahead of where our child actually is. If we get impatience and ridicule or criticize an honest effort, we could significantly undermine our child’s self-confidence and perseverance. If we are harsh enough, our child might develop a deep fear of learning new things. That can carry with them throughout their adult life.
An example of a little boy learning to tie his shoes comes to mind. The father became so impatient and frustrated, he just kept yelling at the struggling child. The child became so nervous and upset he couldn’t get his little fingers to do anything right. His panicked brain just shut down. It was horrible to watch. Needless to say, that is the opposite of what we are trying to accomplish. We want our children to feel the freedom to keep trying and trying again until they get it right. That is why we want to acknowledge any failure that is a part of learning or mastering something with heartfelt encouragement.
“You are getting so close! That was your best one so far. I am so glad we got you the good helmet.”
Train your children to be able to do things. Help them learn useful life skills. We will look at this in more detail in the development & discipline section, page __.
Encourage your children with what they have accomplished. Healthy self-esteem comes mostly from accomplishments that are real and earned. Overcoming or learning something truly challenging will do more for a child’s self-image, self-confidence, and self-esteem than a thousand praises or trophies.
In times of discouragement, remind them of the progress they have made with specific observations. It might help to keep a journal of your child’s skill acquisition with dates to show how far they have come.
“Remember when you could not tie your shoes? Now you tie them so nicely!”
“Remember when you couldn’t count to ten. Now you can count to a thousand!”
Children who believe their parents think they are capable and competent, tend to end up capable and competent. They have the freedom, encouragement, and support to do that. Children who believe their future is hopeful tend to lead more adventurous and satisfying lives. Like all the other heart connection questions, there are very practical benefits with doing well with this question. Our children will be significantly more likely to challenge and push themselves. Our children will be more likely to have healthy and positive self–images and self-esteem. Our children will be much more open and accepting of our development & discipline efforts. That seems worth all the trouble to me.