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Growing Confident Kids Means Honoring the 'Every Moments'

Photograph by Margaret Jacobsen

I'm by no means a perfect parent, and definitely not a person to dish out parenting advice, but I fully believe in encouraging fellow parents to instill confidence in our children—not just confidence when it comes to their physical appearance, but as humans.

I was not the most confident of children. I rarely ever left my mother's side because I was constantly afraid. I was afraid of other adults and most kids. I constantly second-guessed myself. The thought of being far away from my mother left me in fear and so I would avoid being separated from her as often as possible.

School was hard for me. It started with preschool. I loved being there with my friends, yes, but I always looked forward to school letting out. If my mom wasn't there right on 11:30, I would cry and worry that she had forgotten me. Even though, she never failed to show up.

When I was a teenager, I found myself feeling painfully awkward in my body, and with myself. "I don't think I can do this. I'm not the kind of person that can do this," was my mantra. I would try to shrink, making myself smaller.

I still have moments as an adult when I'm ready to branch out and it triggers those memories of complete fear. I relied on my mom to voice my feelings, to ask for things when I needed them, and to literally and figuratively hold my hand through life. I chalk most of this up to my personality, but also partially to my mom's lack of giving me the space to grow the confidence that I needed.

When I entered parenthood (my daughter is now 6 and my son, 5), I knew I wanted to raise children differently. I wanted them to stand tall and to be confident in the spaces they occupied.

I want both my children to look at themselves in the mirror and love the person looking back at them, so these are the three things I focus on.

Responsibility

I am teaching them to speak for themselves. Whenever my children need to use the bathroom and we are out in public, they have to be the ones to ask where the bathroom is. Or when we go out to eat, they must order what they want. Of course, there are moments when I'm impatient and definitely not in the teaching mood, so I go ahead and do it for them.

I've noticed that the more responsibility I give them, the more confident they feel. Recently they went to a neighbor's house and I told them to come back around 5:30. As I mentioned, they're 5 and 6, and I assumed I would have to fetch them—but right at 5:30, both kids walked through the door. My daughter announced proudly, "As soon as it was 5:30, we threw our shoes on and came home!" She was so excited to have been given a task that older kids get, and she took pride in being able to follow through with it.

Crying, feeling things strongly, and having moments of weakness, are completely fine. She knows this and doesn't second guess herself.

Validation

I believe it's fine to praise children. Not just for getting good grades, or winning a race, but in the "every moments" that sometimes might go unnoticed. Letting them know that we see who they are, and that who they are is wonderful and good. It's what makes them who they are.

When my kids came home from the neighbor's, I told my daughter, "Riley girl! I love that you were keeping your eye on the clock, and that you brought your brother home safely." Turning to her brother, "Beck, thank you for being such a good listener and for coming home on time!" Granted, now my kids think they are whizzes at using the clock, so my "I'll be done in 5 minutes" no longer flies. On the other hand, when they go next door, they let me know that they'll be home in an hour and a half, or two hours. They always come home on time.

My daughter tends to have larger emotions than her brother, something I can relate to since it was exactly the way I was as a child. I think if I'm honest, I'm still that way today. My mom used to say, "Stop crying! You're fine!" That always made me feel like being sad, or having hurt feelings, was wrong.

With Riley, I try to kneel down and look her in the eye and say something along the lines of, "I can see you are feeling overwhelmed with different feelings, can we talk about them? I really love how you feel things." I watch her relax and then share her feelings, without inhibiting herself or feeling ashamed. Crying, feeling things strongly and having moments of weakness are completely fine. She knows this and doesn't second-guess herself.

Even now, they'll watch me get dressed, telling me that they can't wait to grow up and have the kind of body I have, because its beautiful.

Appreciation


I want the kids to appreciate who they are as individuals. Beck will tell you that he's an amazing reader and dancer. Riley will tell you that math is her best skill, and that she's a model. She will often say her freckles and ears are her best physical features. Beck will say his curls and stomach. I ask them if they love themselves, and without fail they always say yes. We discuss why we need to do yoga and jump on the trampoline. Why we have to eat those baby carrots and celery. We want to take care of this amazing body that we've been given. If we are good to it, it will take us to so many places.

As a family, we've always walked around mostly naked, adding a tiny bit more clothing as the kids have gotten older. We would talk about our body parts and why we loved each one of them. "Look how great your arms are, being able to stretch towards the sun. Your legs can bend and straighten. Your chest houses your heart and lungs!" Even now they'll watch me get dressed, telling me that they can't wait to grow up and have the kind of body I have, because its beautiful. Not because of some standard of beauty—they see bodies as magical, capable of great feats and they can't wait to watch for their bodies to grow and have their own journeys.

They need to know that who they are—all the parts of them—are what make them beautiful. Those are the things that should make them proud. From that strong base anything is possible.

This article is part of mom.me's collaboration with The Representation Project and their #buildconfidence campaign. Research shows that body image issues originate well before adolescence and that parents are pivotal in instilling confidence in their children. #BuildConfidence campaign celebrates and empowers parents, caregivers and mentors who model positive self-esteem and body image. Share this article and tag #buildconfidence to help us spread the word!

The rest of the series:

Rebecca Woolf — Building Confidence in Our Girls (and Boys)

Katie Hurley — Building Confidence in Your Kids. Right Now!

Jay Miranda — It Took Me Years to Get Over My Mom's Lack of Body Confidence

Marsha Takeda-Morrison — Building Confidence, One Living Room Lecture at a Time

Laurel Dalrymple — When Your Boy Is Not the Athletic Type

Whit Honea — Being the Skinny Boy Was Never Easy

Serge Bielanko — I Was the Fat Kid

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