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Trait #3 : Self-Reliance and Confidence

March 5, 2010

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
— Maya Angelou

The existence of these two traits often eludes children and  adults, but it doesn’t need to be so elusive.  Many of us possess these traits under certain circumstances, around particular folks, or when we’re in the zone.  What does it take to cultivate  consistent self-reliance and confidence in children that can steady and buoy them at times when they feel vulnerable?
As much as I love research, statistic and proven methods, I’ve come to the conclusion that while all of these things help, but what is most essential, is a positive outlook and sense of self-confidence from the adults around those wee ones.  A positive outlook generates self-reliance, and self-reliance generates confidence.
It’s not rocket science, but gosh, confidence can be vexing. Especially if you are the kind of adult who feels pressure at work and at home to be the best and take care of everyone. Life can be overwhelming if you let it be.  But when you can maintain a healthy outlook yourself – which includes a sense of gratitude and appreciation, a sense of purpose and priorities in your life, an awareness of those things which you have some control over, and a sense of humor – it’s really not that hard to have confidence in all that you do.  Those little ones around you will notice, and like most things they see in admired adults, they’ll work to replicate what they see modeled.
A while ago, I wrote a blog title Persistence, Mastery and Confidence. In that blog, I wrote,

“As I watched our skiers and other children skiing, I got to thinking about the students I have known who have been accomplished skiers (or a competitor in any sport)  for their age, some of whom were carving turns ahead of me. They all  have a few things in common:
many are the movers and shakers in the classroom – you know, the kids that wiggle, move, fidget – often within what is truly developmentally appropriate but nonetheless frustrating to unwitting adults
kids who learn best through kinesthetic mode – they learn by doing, by touching, by trying over and over again (this is at the heart of skiing and most sports)
kids who are naturally inclined to sports and who pick up new moves by analyzing others and translating what they see into their own repertoire
persistent kids who try different solutions, especially when faced with challenges
some of these are kids who teachers and parents are watching to see if there are learning issues or who already have diagnosed learning issues

It’s this last observation that makes me the most impressed with young skiers – or really, any young athlete.  How many times have we seen a kid who struggles in school and/or works with such determination in the classroom, but still just doesn’t love school?  Are these the kids who are constantly reminded to control him/herself or to remember what comes next?  Often, it’s those same kids who then move gracefully, smoothly and with agility on the sports field or down a slope with focus and determination which defies the behaviors seen in the classroom?  I wonder how many competitive athletes (or their parents) would report that school was not a piece of cake for them?
Learning a sport like skiing or soccer or gymnastics or anything else – is about persistence, confidence and mastery.   School is also about persistence, confidence, and mastery.   But it’s also about a sense of belonging (does my teacher know I love to ski?), significance (it matters that I am in class today) and fun (yeah, it can be a lot of work, but we do get to do great science experiments). When children feel truly valued and known, they can take risks and try new things. The results are the significant gains in confidence and ability to rely upon oneself.
Too often, the content and approach in schools fail to engage kids in the belonging and significance parts, which yields no fun, no risk taking.  Without a sense of purpose and place, the persistence and risk taking stagnate and true learning comes to a grinding halt.  That’s no fun for anyone and certainly fails to provide opportunities for confidence and mastery.    For some, the result is the fidgety  or disengaged behavior which causes angst for all.  When adults are willing and able to set clear expectations, non-negotiable boundaries, and provide encouragement and positive feedback on activities which capture a learner’s attention, these kids often can demonstrate focus and determination, just as they do on the ski slopes, in the pool, or on the soccer field.”

In building a child’s sense of self-reliance and confidence, we have to be authentic in communicating what we see as a child’s purpose and contributions. Not just to the soccer team, but to a reading group or family dinner conversation.  Be explicit and direct when you affirm their strengths. Talk about how those strengths can serve them well in school or other endeavors.  To do this, adults must also feel confident in their abilities as a parent and in other roles they fulfill.  They must have a sense of self-reliance that they can take on the challenges of parenting and/or can turn to others who provide support or resources.  Your kid wants to be a swimmer, but you can’t imagine the thought of hanging out in a loud and humid pool?  Show up at practice and network with other parents. What you can barter or trade so that your child has a someone cheering him on at swim practice.

Meanwhile, need tips on being a happier, more confident parent, check out Happiness. After reading the article, I had to buy the Kindle book and it’s a fabulous and entertaining quick read when you’ve got a few minutes of inspiration or when you’ve got a chunk of time to indulge yourself.  You can find the link on the bookshelf to the right.

Got tips on fostering self-reliance and confidence? Share in the comments section.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jennifer permalink
    March 12, 2010 2:02 pm

    Hi Lisa – I remember a rainy day at your house on Post Road, and your mom took me out to stomp in the puddles. It was so much fun and it’s something I will always remember!

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