Friday 30 September 2016

Ask the expert: How do I teach my toddler to be confident in life?

Published 02/08/2016 | 02:30

Photo posed by models
Photo posed by models

Advice from the clinical psychologist and parenting expert on how to give your child confidence and on how to get a teenager to treat you with respect.

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Q. We have a little boy who is 21-months-old. His first year was tough as he was 'colicky' and seemed to be always crying. However, my biggest fear for him is that he will be like I was, as a child, and have poor confidence and self-esteem. How can I help him to become a confident and happy person? Will he pick up on my lack of self-esteem and mirror it? His daddy is a fairly confident person, and I try to hide my lack of confidence. I intend to encourage him to get involved in sport as soon as he is old enough, as GAA is big in our area.

David replies: I think it is natural for us, as parents, to worry that our children may mirror any negative aspects of ourselves that we perceive. However, our children are not destined to be, simply, replicas of ourselves.That said, our children do learn lots about the world and how to behave in the world from observing us. So, if they see us being confident, and acting confidently, then they could learn to do the same themselves.

So, one way to help your son build up his self-esteem and self-confidence is to role model confidence and assertiveness yourself.

You seem to suggest, in your query, that you still feel unconfident, but that you try to mask it or hide it. If so, then do focus on building your own self-esteem, as high self-esteem tends to lead to greater confidence.

No more than with a child, your self-esteem can be considered in terms of your sense of lovability and your sense of capability.

Lovability refers to your beliefs that you are accepted by others, that they value you for your personality, that they like you and want to spend time with you.

Capability refers to your beliefs about how able you are to achieve things and how others value what you can do. Your sense of capability includes your sense that you are needed and that others recognise your skills and talents.

Sometimes we have a habit of getting stuck with rigid or inflexible attitudes. So when we find ourselves saying things like "I should…" or "I must…" the chances are we are setting unreasonable or inflexible standards for ourselves. Naturally, if we then fail to meet those standards we feel worse about ourselves.

Another way we can keep our own confidence and self-esteem low is with self-deprecation. So be careful not to put yourself down, even jokingly. If you are negative about yourself then it is harder for others to be positive about you.

You might also like to ensure that you take on board and accept any positive feedback that comes your way. If you don't feel that confident in yourself, you may also have a tendency to reject any compliments. Compliments boost our sense of self, so do gratefully accept them.

You will know where you stand with regard to these different aspects. Some may, and some may not, be issues for you. You might find that talking with a good counsellor or therapist can get you on track for dealing with your own self-esteem or confidence issues that you find to be problematic.

Aside from role-modelling a more confident and self-assured you, when it comes to dealing with your son, I think you will find that if you adopt a kind but firm approach to parenting him, that you will give him the skills and experiences to grow into a confident and balanced boy.

The balance between having high expectations of our children, but recognising that we need to be warm and understanding at the same time, is what gives children that sense of a strong, nurturing, base from which they can feel secure and able to explore their world.

Having clear rules, and limits, for small children creates a predictable security for them. Add in kindness, caring and understanding, and you give your child the right mix of experience that creates a fertile environment within which they can grow and develop confidently.

There is an irony in the fact that your son needs you to have the confidence to believe in him, and to believe in your own ability to be the best kind of parent for him.

So, work on your own confidence and it will rub off, positively, on your son.

My 15-year-old son is lazy, rude and dismissive. What can I do to get him to treat me with respect?

Q. What am I going to do with my 15-year-old son? His attitude and behaviour towards me is shocking. He is just rude and dismissive all the time. He ignores me if I try to talk to him, or even text him, about anything, and he won't do a tap around the house, no matter how many times I ask. He sits around all day, on his phone, if he isn't with his friends, and it's as if I am the unreasonable one if I ask him to help out. His dad keeps telling me to leave him off, that I am nagging him, which just causes rows between us. Are all teenagers like this?

David replies: No, not all teenagers are layabouts, rude and dismissive. But many teenagers are very self-centred and think about little more than themselves, their immediate friends and when their next meal will be available to them.

Adolescence is a very self-focused time in their lives precisely because, developmentally, teenagers are trying to work out their identity and also trying to fit in, or adapt, to their peer environment.

Communication with their parents often falters during adolescence because teenagers are actively seeking out new voices, experiences and attitudes that challenge us and challenge our perspective on life.

That challenge may be expressed as a dismissal of what we say, or a rejection of what we believe. Sometimes the rejection can seem very personal and sometimes may even appear aggressive.

It sounds like, from your query, you feel like your son has rejected you. His rudeness and dismissiveness are, no doubt, hurtful and upsetting. It is very unpleasant to be subjected to this.

However, part of his growing up will be to accept or reject what you stand for and make his own choices about his life. He does need guidance in how to do this, without harming others.

I wonder if you are struggling to find the right way to connect to your son to be able to still guide and direct him, while negotiating his increasing independence and self-direction?

The feedback that you are getting from your husband isn't very helpful. Telling you that you "nag" your son seems just like criticism, with no constructive help about what it is that you say or do that might be unhelpful for your son.

I could imagine that you feel quite defensive and resentful if this is his attitude towards you and your relationship with your son.

Indeed, if he makes these comments to you, in front of your son, then they will have the added effect of undermining your authority, making it even more difficult for you to communicate effectively with your son.

So, tackle your husband on this issue. Get him to explain what it is about the words you use, the behaviours your display, or the tone in your voice, that seems "nagging". Then see if he has any useful suggestions for how better to encourage your son to take some responsibility for his role in the family.

It may be that your husband has some helpful ideas about how to get through to your son, particularly if he feels he has an effective means himself.

You may be able to learn from that. Or, it may become clear that your husband has no better ideas, in which case he needs to learn not to interfere in what you say or do when you are the one directly dealing with your son.

For your own direct communication, think about just building rapport with him, like you might when trying to get to know a new friend. Show the same level of interest in him and his life. Grab the small windows when it might be possible to just chat.

Building up your relationship with him, again, means that when you then have to set limits or insist on certain behaviours he is likely to be more respectful in his responses.

You and his dad still need to be the ones in charge, making the rules and setting the expectations, but you can include him and his opinion more and more.

If he feels he gets his say, then he may be more amenable to help, or to simply be polite, even if he doesn't get his way.

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