by VICTOR M. PARACHIN
Author and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin tells of giving a lecture at which he asked the audience: “How many of you grew up in a household in which somebody’s ill temper had a bad effect on the household?” Present in the audience that day were two of his daughters, then ages six and four. To his embarrassment, and to the audience’s immense amusement, his six-year-old raised her hand and, the four-year-old, seeing her sister’s hand, did as well.
Later Rabbi Telushkin spoke to his daughter asking about her raised hand. She explained, “I often snapped at her when I was teaching her to read.” He immediately apologized to her: “It’s wrong of me to do that. I’m really sorry. I’ll try not to do that again, and I hope you can forgive me.” Rabbi Telushkin also told her in the future, “if I became impatient, she should say to me, ‘Daddy, you’re not supposed to get angry.’”
That father’s response was filled with wisdom and compassion. In asking his daughter for an explanation, listening carefully to it and then responding positively, he affirmed his daughter’s opinions, thoughts and feelings were important. It was a great leap forward in empowering his daughter to believe in herself.
Parents who want the best for their children must first teach them how to believe the best in themselves. “There is always a moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in,” notes author Graham Greene. Here are seven more ways parents and other significant adults can help children believe in themselves.
1) Make them your priority. A child’s self esteem is greatly strengthened when they are made to feel important by the significant adults in their life. One effective way of showing this is simply to be present for significant occasions. One man, now a father himself, relates the disappointment and frustration he feels toward his father: “Between the time I was 5 and 13 years old, my father was home for only two of my birthdays. His job required him to travel a lot, but I can’t understand why he couldn’t arrange to be home for my birthday. I never felt he cared about me.” The lesson for others from his experience is this: If we are not present at the important events in our children’s lives, they are likely to feel the same way as this man, angry and resentful toward their parents. Even though your work schedule may be very demanding, make the time to be present for your child’s important days such as the first day of school, birthdays, first recital, graduation and sports they participate in. Consider this advice from Valerie Bell, author of “Getting Out of Your Kids’ Faces and into Their Hearts.” She shares, “Let your eyes light up when your children are around. Laugh more. Tell them how empty and quiet it is when they’re not there. Enjoy the things they bring to your life. Attend their activities, not as if they were compulsory for parents, but throw yourself into their lives.”
2) Build up rather than chip away at children. That wisdom comes from Robert Brooks, PhD., and Sam Goldstein, PhD., authors of “Raising Resilient Children.” They write: “A beautiful statue can be created by either starting with a large piece of marble and chipping away or starting with a small lump of clay and building up. Although in the art work either method may produce a beautiful work, in the parenting world the chipping method is unproductive.” Too often many parents are guilty of “chipping away” without realizing it. Rather than comment on what their children are doing right, they comment on what they’ve done wrong. Rather than teach their children, they are always correcting their children. “If parents employ the chisel with regularity, they will weaken whatever confidence remains in their children. In contrast, parents who build up and offer positive comments will help create a strong foundation of love on which resilience will be constructed,” they write.
3) Let them help you. Children are empowered when an adult sincerely asks for their assistance and advice. Consider the experience of Mac Bledsoe, author of “Parenting With Dignity.” Mac tells about his very first computer purchase that came in six or seven boxes. He found the process of setting up a computer system daunting. Mac said, “Then I thought for a minute and asked myself, who in this family knows how to set up a computer? The answer was simple: the boys.” So he asked them to set it up. A short time later they called him to come into the home study. “They not only had our new computer set up, they had all the manuals organized on the bookshelf and all the boxes stacked up neatly along the wall. Then I watched in amazement as they began to teach me all the things they could do on our new computer,” said Mac.
Let your eyes light up when your children are around. Laugh more. Enjoy the things they bring to your life.
4) Listen to your children. Many parents complain their children won’t talk to them. However, in too many cases the problem isn’t that the kids don’t want to talk. The problem is parents won’t take the time to carefully, respectfully listen. Kids quickly pick up signals from adults. All it takes are comments like these to shut them down, “Can’t you see I’m busy?” “Not now, I’m trying to finish this project.” When parents won’t listen, children shut down, feeling their stories and experiences aren’t important. When your son says, “Guess what, Mom …” turn off the TV and just listen. When your daughter says “Guess what Dad” put down the newspaper and pay attention.
5) Respond to what you hear with empathy. As your children share their experiences, let them know you understand and appreciate their feelings. Respond with kindness, compassion and empathy. In his book, “Family First,” Dr. Phil McGraw says: “True empathy goes far beyond saying ‘I understand’ or ‘I know just how you feel.’ To really have and communicate empathy, you must connect with your child’s point of view and effectively explain to him/her what you believe she is feeling.” Dr. Phil recommends using these types of sentences to demonstrate both caring and empathy:
You must be feeling really sad (scared, happy, excited, left out, worried etc.)
That must really have hurt your feelings and upset you.
You must have felt really alone.
You must be so excited, you can hardly sit still.
You must be really scared about what’s going to happen.
6) Support, promote and nurture children’s dreams. Children need important adults
in their lives who will support, promote and nurture the dreams they develop for themselves. When this takes place, children will believe in themselves and then take steps to fulfill their goals.
7) Talk the talk and walk the walk. This proverb reminds parents to be positive role models for children. Our beliefs should always be matched by our behaviors. Whether adults recognize it or not, children are watching. Who we are and what we do shouts louder than anything we can say.
VICTOR M. PARACHIN is a freelance writer from Oklahoma.