Bill Lucas suggests some practical ideas for you to use at home
Half way through the school holidays and wondering what you might do with your own children to develop their character? Over the next three weeks we’ll be offering tasters from Educating Ruby to get you going. Remember that with each capability there will be ways in which you can be a good role model and talk about it as well as coming up with activities to develop it.
Let’s start with confidence.
Being confident involves developing and using a growth mindset, being a can do person and being able to act independently. In an era of selfies it is easy to assume that everyone wants to be photographed. But we are also living at a time when too many young people suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia which frequently arise from a poor self-image and lack of confidence.
A growth mindset is founded on self-belief. Children who believe they can get better at things, it turns out, normally can with practice and determination. The best ways in which you can encourage your child to develop this kind of self-belief is to avoid too much generalised praise (Well done, Rita) and concentrate instead on giving really specific feedback to your child when she does things well (I really liked the way you spent extra time clearing up, Ruby. It’ll be much easier to bake our cakes now). Ruby in this example is hearing that her effort paid off and, over time, will see how valuable it is to go the extra mile.
Another important job for parents and family members is to take time sharing things which they are struggling with. This way children learn that struggling and making mistakes are normal and healthy aspects of learning.
You can’t give a child a magic injection of confidence! For sure you can make them feel loved and secure. But real inner can-do confidence comes from the experiences of planning and seeing difficult tasks through. A key part of such success involves the ability to set goals and then plan how you will achieve them. From an early age it is helpful if you can get into the habit of making plans as a family (What shall we do while we are on holiday? Who’d like to suggest what we do today?) Once children are at school homework provides a good opportunity to help your child break a task down into its smaller components, think through how long each part might take, make a plan, do it and then, whenever possible, talk about how it went. And during the holidays there are lots of occasions when you can practise breaking a plan into smaller chunks.
When they are very young children want and need you to hold their hand. But as they grow you can help them to practise acting independently. To begin with you can be quietly there in the background, while, for example, they cook a simple meal ‘on their own’. Then you can set them simple jobs to accomplish as they grow in confidence – walking the short distance to a local shop and buying you something; taking the dog for a walk (with you seeing them safely over the main road first); getting everything ready for school the night before.
So, in the next few weeks here are some things you could do to boost your child’s (and your own) confidence. Remember confidence is the result of self-belief which is itself the consequence of learning how to persevere and keep going when things are difficult. You might like to try one of these:
Choose one for each member of the family, something that each of you finds difficult. Make a list and pin it to the fridge door (Dad’s going to try not to lose his temper when Jim spills his cereal; Jim’s going to try and eat his breakfast without leaving a mess on the table etc)
Spot the effort
Spend a week commenting only on everyone’s effort not on their achievements such as winning a game or beating someone at a race. (‘Well done for putting all the dishes away so carefully’, ‘That was a really kind thing to help your sister like that’)
Make a list of all the people you can think of who have got in life by trying really hard – sportspeople, artists, scientists, inventors, characters in stories; talk about how each of the people on your list achieved success
Learn something new
Gut a fish, bake a cake, try a new musical instrument, sew on a button, climb a rock, try a new board game, make a sandwich, try a new exercise machine at the gym – and share your experiences with the family; remember to encourage everyone to talk about any struggles they have and how they deal with them
Replace ‘can’t with ‘not yet’
Listen out for anyone who sounds as if they are being negative about their achievements and help them to rephrase it (‘I just can’t do Twitter’ ‘Dad, what you mean is that you haven’t yet worked out how to tweet!’)
A good read to help you understand more about developing confidence is Mindset, by Carol Dweck.