It was heartening to learn that 93 percent of kids who responded to the 2018 Highlights State of the Kid™ survey say they’d take action if they saw someone doing or saying something mean, and that nearly all respondents—90 percent, in fact—feel that the grown-ups in their lives care about what they have to say. These findings are great news, representing an age of positive parenting, a shift from parents being focused on wanting kids to get “good grades/good jobs” to parents focused on nurturing the inner lives of their children too.
Such a shift begins with empowering our kids, helping them gain a sense of inner confidence, courage, and strength to successfully surmount whatever life presents! It is guiding them to persevere when obstacles arise as they always do, such as bullies, failed tests, mistakes, disappointments, and bruises. Having such inner strength will also move them toward pursuing their dreams.
The act of empowering children is a process of guiding them to feel and believe that they are powerful now, and creating optimum conditions that mirror these concepts back to them. Owen, age five, lit up when his father told him he was “so creative” and “talented” in his painting class. You could see Owen looking more confident and stronger. It is a great example of a child beginning to feel like a powerful creator.
Unfortunately, well-intentioned parents sometimes do the opposite as well. Olive, age eight, was dancing with friends and playing with her Hula-Hoop in the park. It was just good ole summer fun. Her mom told Olive that she looked as if she had “two left feet” when she was dancing. Olive cried. Instead of fueling Olive’s sense of power, her mom’s words diminished it.
Learning to empower children doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but the good news is that we each can become better. It really takes the same effort that you apply to any goal—enthusiasm, dedication, and a willingness to “set aside” any preconceived ideas, projections, and personal baggage. A child so wholeheartedly wants to believe his dreams can come true. So it is up to us, the adults, to support this notion (whether it makes sense to us or not!). For example, little Joey, age three, told me he wants to be a spaceship repairman. I replied, “Go for it!”
As you gather your emotional and mental forces to focus on empowering your children, there are three techniques that can help you consciously empower them. They are:
Mirroring. It is the process of serving as the reflection of children’s abilities, skills, and qualities so they begin to “see” themselves as they really are: highly valuable, talented, and capable right now. Owen’s father, from the example cited earlier, mirrored to Owen his creative strengths. The effect was nearly immediate because you could see Owen feeling more positive and confident.
Encouragement. Such support--“putting in” courage or belief in your children—enables them to see themselves as they are: highly competent now. Madeline, age six, had her training wheels taken off her bike recently. She was excited and terrified. Her mom came to her side and said, “You can do it! I believe in you,” and with a little push, Madeline did it! Her mom’s words of encouragement made all the difference.
Partnering. Let your child know that he can count on you for support, but negotiate so he’ll be willing to try new experiences. If he is hesitant to, say, attend a birthday party with second-grade classmates he doesn’t know very well, give him an out. “If you go for an hour and are miserable, I’ll come pick you up.”
Encouragement, mirroring, and partnering may seem like simple ideas—and they are. I believe that many things are simple but they’re not always easy. It’s like riding 100 miles on your bicycle—conceptually it is easy, but actually doing it is much harder. What I know for sure is that by making small changes in our everyday strategies, we can impact big changes in our children, which help them feel and ultimately do their best.
Maureen Healy is an award-winning author, educator, and leader in the field of children’s emotional health. Her new book The Emotionally Healthy Child helps adults raise emotionally healthy and ultimately happier children. She’s written for Psychology Today and contributed to the PBS series This Emotional Life. Learn more: www.growinghappykids.com