Raising Confident, Capable Kids in a Performance Filled Culture

Children who come to believe that our love, praise, or affection is contingent on their pleasing us and doing what we want them to do become the most vulnerable of all people.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

I have been silently taking inventory of our culture's and many families' perceptions of performance and raising confident/capable kids. What stands out the most is the unintentional reinforced value that performance has on self-worth. What also stands out are misconceptions of grace and confidence which affect children's perceptions of life and faith.

Before we dive in, you must understand as parents, that it is never too late to make improvements. We are easily caught up in performance based parenting and feeling the shame and guilt of not parenting the way we "should" or the way others do. We equate our parenting performance with our self-worth as a parent. We begin to parent out of fear of inadequacy instead out of grace and confidence.

We grow and change much faster when we shed discouraging thoughts about what we have failed to accomplish.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

To get all of us started in making some improvements, I will be referencing and pulling out pieces from these resources: Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen) and What's So Amazing About Grace? (Philip Yancey).

In today's culture we are bombarded with opportunities and pressures for our kids to perform or to prove their abilities. How do we carve out self-confidence, self-validation, self-discipline, good judgement, and a sense of responsibility in our children? These capabilities can be nourished in young people through  1. networking 2. finding meaningful roles 3. exploring 4. celebrating 5. setting limits, 6. developing self-control and 7. modeling grace.

First let's understand "perception." When we think through our experiences, we form conclusions about ourselves and our lives (perception). Children make decisions about themselves based upon their experiences. They think about what they need to do to survive or thrive. When a child's perceptions are threatened or when their perceptions are not consistent with the environment, their brain reacts, which sends a signal to their body to react. You've heard of fight, flight, or freeze. Read more about brain science and behavior here.

Perceptions are unique. Perceptions are keys to attitudes, motivation, and behavior. Perceptions must first be supported and challenged in order to change.

Glenn and Nelsen in Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World suggest ways of helping children process their experiences and examine their perceptions.

1. Identify: What are the important parts of the experience? What happened? What was the outcome? What were your feelings? What was most important?

2. Analyze: Why was that important to you? What were you trying to do?

3. Generalize: How can you use this information next time? What do you need to repeat to achieve the same outcome?

Nourishing Your Child's Capabilities

Networking

The simplest of all networks is friendship.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

People are tribal creatures designed for relationships. We excel when we collaborate, teach, affirm, and encourage each other. Who is in your tribe with whom you can dialogue about the world, about life, and about kids?

Finding Meaningful Roles

Today we need to deal with our young people actively in ways that cause them to believe they are significant contributors rather than just objects or passive recipients of our activities.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

As children find meaningful roles in their family and in their social groups, they develop a sense of importance and personal significance. Focus, direction, a sense of ownership, all help to foster this perception of personal significance. When we listen to our children and take them seriously, we can restore collaboration with them. What are some ways you can offer meaningful roles to your children? How can you incorporate family meetings into your routine? What ritual, tradition, or activity can you devote weekly time?

The need to be needed is often more powerful than the need to survive.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Exploring

Experience, especially one that’s reflected on, is a far more effective teacher than parents could ever be.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Too often parents or caregivers step in prematurely instead of allowing a child to do for himself or to experience for himself. When parents are too quick to offer an explanation or expertise, the child is left feeling vulnerable or intimidated. They may form the perception of: I am not capable unless they are here. What would happen if they were not there? Rescuer parents rescue children from inadequacy and then enable them to remain vulnerable. 

By helping our children explore their experiences, they will develop confidence in their ability to learn and problem solve.

Celebrating

When we recognize effort and progress, we get more results.  Sometimes we unintentionally set up a trap for our children by steering them to be independent and then objecting to their way of doing things. Instead, encourage children with specific feedback and acknowledgement of effort.

When we praise the performance or praise the results, we lose sight of the individual and her effort and contribution. Examine how you celebrate your own successes or how you evaluate your mistakes. Do you communicate that self worth and self control are independent of external circumstances?

Setting Limits

Setting limits is an exercise in using our wisdom and experience to anticipate possible problems and solve them in advance.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Too often we wait until after something has gone wrong to decide what we'll do about it. We often react with anger and say meaningless things. Determining limits together with a child before a situation occurs will help your child's sense of control remain intact. Using firmness and respect to communicate and follow through with a limit provides opportunity for your child to honor the limit and exercise self-control. 

Developing Self-Control

Our children's capability to recognize and acknowledge personal feelings directly affects their ability to select an appropriate behavioral response to a feeling.

Once children become comfortable with the notion that their feelings are, as are the feelings of others, a legitimate, worthy part of their lives, they are ready to take the next step-to self-control.
— Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World (Glenn and Nelsen)

Developmentally around eight years old, most children are capable of controlling impulses that bring immediate gratification and instead choosing a behavior that achieves a goal.

Philip Yancey in What's So Amazing About Grace chooses the word gratitude for motivation for "being good." We want our children to strive to do well and to have self-control--not to make their parents or God love them (we already do), but because of gratitude and a sense of love within a relationship. 

Modeling Grace

By instinct I feel I must do something in order to be accepted. Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.
— What's So Amazing About Grace? (Phillip Yancey)

Take the initiative to model grace by laying down retribution or fairness. Reinforce your love for your children regardless of performance or behavior. Speak truth and life into your children. Speak to who they are becoming. Forgive. Lay down all of your needs for gratitude and compliments.

We are modeling grace when we allow our children to operate from within themselves, to practice self-control, to explore experiences and opportunities, and to practice their abilities. Regardless of performance or failures, we can gracefully communicate to our children through our attitudes, words, modeling, and forgiveness that they are worthy of unconditional love. This sets the stage for them to explore faith, accept spiritual grace, and to realize their greater worth.

Next Steps

You've read through all of this information, now ask your self "What is the most important thing I've come to realize? What behavior change do I want to make? Why is this realization important right now? How can it make a difference in my life or my child's life? Where do I want to first apply it?"

Complete the following statement: As a result of this awareness, the first thing I will do at the first opportunity is....

Aggression or Grace?

If childhood bullying, aggression, emotions, or boundaries peak your interest, continue reading. As I read about current research, I wanted to make a connection for you about 2 articles I read. The first article about childhood aggression cites research that suggests when a child believes he or she is being threatened by a person who that child perceives is purposefully showing hostility, that child is likely to react with aggression. (Hypervigilance May Lead to Aggression) The study also indicates that the more a culture teaches children to be defensive, the more aggressive children are in that culture.

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Are we teaching our kids to react defensively or to respond forgivingly?

Perhaps we should take a look at the second article regarding attachments and boundaries. Boundaries are important to protect one's self. Children often learn boundaries from the adults in their lives. (Attachment Revisited: 7 Red Flag Signs of Poor Boundaries).

Healthy boundaries often result from healthy attachment in early life.
— Tamara Hill, MS, blogs.Psychcentral.com

Further more, healthy attachment results in high emotional intelligence (or the ability to manage emotions). If a child lacks boundaries, it will be difficult to tell others how they feel. They may begin to feel trapped or overwhelmed. As the first article suggests, if a child perceives someone to be threatening, he is likely to react aggressively.

How do I socialize my child to be forgiving?

For starters, you can model healthy attachment and boundaries so that your child can respond with grace and truth towards others. 

Grace includes support, resources, love, compassion, forgiveness, and all of the relational sides of God’s nature. Truth is the structure of life.
— Boundaries with Kids, Cloud and Townsend. Pg 67-68
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