Raise confident kids

Here is a two-minute exercise: Write a classified ad that would describe parenthood. How would you summarize it?  No monetary pay, ample sleep deprivation, changing dirty diapers, and coping with temper tantrums…and yet, at the same time, packed with joy and love. We may joke, cry, and vent about the role of parenthood in its multitude of frustrations, failings, and peaks.  In trying to raise responsible, confident children, we have listed eight items to consider in being successful.  We realize that they may not work for all parents, but they have been beneficial to us in our respective families. 

  1. Start with bedtime: Children require at least 10 hours of sleep every night, regardless of whether it a school night or a weekend.  How many parents have coped with bad moods in children that are result of inadequate sleep?  When thinking about bedtime, consider consistency and structure: Keep bedtime family routines simple and easy to follow. When done consistently, children will learn that this routine is the expected norm.  In addition, there's a secondary gain: An earlier bedtime for children allows parents to have time to rejuvenate.
  2. Respect your own discipline: Imagine being at a fun-filled, family party and hearing a parent say, "If you don’t stop fighting with your sister, then we’ll leave!" The sibling argument continues, but the parent chooses to stay at the party, making the threat a hollow one.  Repeating this parental behavior enables children to learn that the consequence isn't likely to happen. It's tempting as a parent to thrive on threats that are hard to hold.  "If you don't do this, I'll do that." Children quickly come to realize that what parents are threatening isn’t going to happen, and, as a result, they stop listening. Parents then openly wonder, "Why doesn't my child listen to me?" Be mindful of carrying through with your stated intention. Remember: If you don’t really plan to do what you say, pick a different consequence that you're more likely to carry out.
  3. Listen–truly listen–to your child: In an environment packed with distractions, giving someone undivided attention can be challenge.  Yet children need relational connections to thrive and can be creative in attention-seeking methods. If they don’t get it when they are behaving well, they will behave differently in ways that demand quick parental attention. Remember to put down whatever you are doing, look your child in the eyes, and have a conversation. Bear in mind that listening is not simply question-asking. Check in on their activities, share good and bad parts of your day, and even make up some funny riddles.  As John Crudele said, “Kids spell love T-I-M-E,” and devoting that undivided attention is a most special gift that a parent gives to a child.
  4. Move and groove: Every child is supposed to have 60 minutes of large motor skill activity per day. This mean activities such as running, jumping, skating, soccer, and gymnastics. They will sleep and eat better when they have used up some of their energy. A recent study found that children who engaged in regular physical activity had better grades in school and high scores on standardized tests. Better yet–join them in exercise.  Engaging in an active lifestyle is good for the whole family. Train for a 5K.  Go on nature walks or scavenger hunts. Kick the soccer ball around.  Keep moving. 
  5. Remember to balance praise and suggestions: Think of praise as adding a penny to one's developmental bank and critiquing as emptying a penny from the same account. Invest in your child with positive feedback and ensure that sufficient positive feedback has been deposited when critical feedback is given.  Otherwise the bank account is drained quickly.  Frequent nagging and criticism falls on deaf ears. Can’t find anything positive? Look again. And keep looking.  In the words of Diane Loomans, “If I had my child to raise all over again…I’d do more hugging and less tugging.”
  6. Household chores instill responsibility: Helping out around the house can boost children’s sense of self-confidence, and an ample of activities are possible, ranging from unloading the dishwasher to setting the table to putting away clothes to pulling weeds. Think about the sense of accomplishment and self-efficacy that such activities can promote. Here’s a bonus: Sometimes the best conversations can emerge during times when parents and children do these chores together.  (See #3!)
  7. State what you want and in different ways: Many parents use the four-letter “d” word in expressing frustration: “don’t.”  “Don’t get your clothes dirty…don’t hit your sister…don’t run in the house…” Be mindful of the negative and instead think about telling them what you’d like them to do.  “Instead of watching more TV, I’d like for you to…“Let’s find a different way to do this…” “Use a softer voice when talking in the library…”  Another effective alternative is to permit the behavior, but in a different place.  For instance, “Susie, please continue to play with that loud toy, and please do so in the other room,” or “Jay, I can see how much you’re enjoying singing right now…I’d like to ask you to do it in the kitchen while I’m on the phone.” By communicating what they want to happen, parents focus on the desired outcome.
  8. Give yourself a break—really: Taking a break from your parent role is crucial to your own wellness and to your relationships with a spouse/partner, family members, and friends..  Whether it is a date, a weekly book club, or an evening workout, the time away from children can bring a welcome fulfillment to many parents.  We recognize that the challenges in doing this are many—finding childcare, limited budgets, and scheduling challenges—but even brief stints away can be rejuvenating to you in your parental role.

Granted, these eight items aren’t easy.  Far from it.  However, the fundamental point harkens back to an anonymous quote: “To be in your children’s memories tomorrow, you have to be in their lives today.” And may today be a parental pleasure for you.

Robin Rishel, Ph.D., is an adjunct instructor in the Department of Counseling at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is a full-time mother of three.  John McCarthy, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Counseling at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a father of two.   Quotations used in this article can be found at www.betterparenting.com.