How to Raise a Smart, Confident Child
How to Raise a Smart, Confident Child
Intelligence and confidence are two qualities I feel are the most essential in order to be successful and happy. These were things I struggled with my entire life so when my daughter was born my goal was to do everything I could to make sure she had a strong foundation for a successful future. I read a lot of books, talked with many parent friends and the below seven points are what I did to help guide her through the past 15 years. She is a teenager now and yes the teen years are certainly a struggle, and I will be blogging about them soon, but I think she is an intelligent and confident person. She also has great communication skills which I believe is paramount for success in life. I want to preface these next seven points by stating that none of this is easy and you may need to adjust some things depending on your situation, but you will find it fruitful...results may vary.
1. Read, read, read. Reading to your child at an early age increases their speech skills, aptitude for learning, creativity, and curiosity. I had difficulty in school and reading was my worst subject. I did not want my child to struggle as I did, so I began reading to her when she was two weeks old. It not only gave us to time to bond; it’s proven to stimulate brain development and increase vocabulary. I continued to read to her almost every day until she was able to read on her own. By the time she was in 4th grade, she was devouring Harry Potter books and was a self-proclaimed “book-sniffer” (a person who loves books and how they smell). I was so proud! I truly believe this foundation increased her ability to learn, comprehend and communicate which is directly related to self-esteem and confidence. Tip: If you have several children and don’t have time to always sit down and read, have the older children read to the younger ones. This re-enforces the older child’s skills as well.
2. Teach them about the world. Plan trips to museums, the zoo, a farm, a botanical garden, local attractions, art fairs, etc. If you live in a large city take them to the suburbs and visit the local library or find a coffee shop to watch the local people. If you live in the suburbs, do the opposite. The library is a great place to explore different interests. I was a stay-at-home mom living on a budget so our adventures had to be done very cheaply and I usually packed a lunch. Our local park district has a wide-variety of classes ranging from science to yoga. We explored as much as time and money would allow. My daughter’s first grade teacher told me “Claire has so much outside knowledge that she teaches her classmates new things every day”. Having knowledge that expands beyond their own little “bubble” (home/community), helps them become well-rounded individuals, which increases their chances for success.
3. Socialize them. Create a safe environment for them to spend time with other children, and adults you respect. Some suggestions would be to start a playgroup in your area and find trusted family and friends for your child to spend time with. I started a playgroup in my neighborhood when my daughter was 9 months old and it opened up a new world to her. She was able to learn about different people, sharing, problem-solving, friendships, compassion, and so much more. Socialization also helps them become comfortable in different and changing situations that boost their desire to try something new.
4. Create a predictable environment. Repetition helps brain development. When a child receives consistent care they feel more secure which allows more time for exploring and learning.1 Create routines for nap time, meal time, bath time, etc. and your child will be more content (less fussing) and have plenty of energy to discover new things. Consistency breeds trust and trust breeds security. Children thrive in this environment. They also thrive when they know what’s coming next. This creates a harmonious home environment with less outbursts and tantrums. However, life is full of surprises so it’s impossible to avoid having to change course on occasion. If it’s possible, let them know ahead of time if you are changing the schedule. When my daughter was young (old enough to understand) I would tell her when we were going to the pediatrician for a check-up and if she was due for a shot. I didn’t make a huge deal about it but I wanted her to be prepared since shots are not fun. This worked for my child but, you know your child best so if they would become hysterical and resist getting in the car, maybe get in the car first, make sure they have their favorite toy or stuffed animal, then tell them. A predictable environment helps them calmly navigate their emotions so they can process uncomfortable circumstances more thoroughly. Having this skill will increase confidence because they become more in-control of their emotions.
5. Skip the sarcasm. Children are learning new words, how to form sentences, and how to decipher expressions so they can meld them all together to become effective communicators. These skills increase their confidence as human beings. Sarcasm doesn’t compute in their little brains. Webster’s definition of sarcasm is “a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain”. There is a difference between being funny and having fun…and sarcasm. As adults, most of us are able to tell the difference. Sometimes it’s intended to be funny and sometimes it’s just cruel. Sarcasm can also be defined as words that are the complete opposite of what the person means. There is a time and place for it and it can be funny, but children think in literal terms so they find sarcasm confusing. A child will end up doubting what they thought they knew and this etches away at their confidence. I’ve seen the effects of sarcasm on a child’s confidence. Some adults think they are being funny by making a sarcastic comment and the child’s reaction is one of confusion…then embarrassment. The child is now unsure of themselves and their confidence has been shaken. Continued exposure to sarcasm can cause deeply engrained insecurities and the inability to effectively communicate as they grow and mature. Choose your words carefully when interacting with your children because it can greatly influence their self-esteem.
6. Establish boundaries. Your boundaries are your value system. It’s important to share your value system with your children either directly; by telling them what you value or indirectly; by observing what you value by the way you live your life. An example would be your child comes home with a great report card and you praise them for a job well-done. If your child comes home with what you feel is a poor report card, you encourage them to do better by helping them. They now know you value intelligence and trying hard to achieve something better. Another example would be if you are talking on the phone and your child is calling your name and tugging at your sleeve. This is an opportunity to set a boundary by telling your child “when I am on the phone, unless it’s an emergency (like bleeding from your eyeballs for example) please wait until I am off the phone”. If your child does it again, you would repeat the same thing and then take your conversation into another room and close the door. Of course they will push the limits because it’s human nature but they will rely on you to clearly define your boundaries. Yes, it’s exhausting and many parents think they are hurting their child’s feelings but trust me it will be well worth the effort. Because you have been very clear about your boundaries, your children will be more confident because they won’t have to question themselves when faced with making a decision like should they do their homework…or should they interrupt you while you’re on the phone. You will also teach them how to set their own boundaries. As they grow and mature, you will appreciate the harmony you’ve created. Don’t forget to respect their boundaries as well.
7. Let them have choices. To strengthen their confidence and lead them down a path to success, let your children know they have choices. When they’re young start out with simple choices like “what book do you want to read?” When I was a kid I loved when my mom made cauliflower. When I was an adult I told my mom this and she said “I didn’t know that, you should have asked for it more”. I grew up not knowing I had choices. As your children grow give them more complex choices. Make sure it’s “within reason” and age-appropriate. If you have a family of 5 and everyone wants something different for dinner, obviously that’s not negotiable. Pick things you feel are negotiable and when they come to you with a valid reason why they would like special consideration, negotiate. Create a “win-win”. This encourages them to think as individuals so when they are not with you, they can negotiate for things they want in life. It's important for them to know that their opinions matter. The goal is for your child to have enough confidence to think on their own and engage their creative minds to develop solutions that work for everyone. It will help them in personal relationships, school, and work and it’s also essential for building self-esteem.
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Some other good reads:
Great site to explain the importance of creating a predictable world. http://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.cfm?number=C1053-11
Here is a link that goes a little deeper into boundary-setting.