As parents we want our kids to grow up confident, with an amazing sense of self-worth, a whole lot of resilience and respect for others and the world around them. As adults, we know persistence and tenacity are important traits when the going becomes tough. Children are a blank slate when they are born. It is a scary thought, but in the early years, children will become what adults tell them they are. I have seen this both as an educator and a mother. The child who is told they are stupid and worthless will believe that is what they are. A child who is nurtured to believe in him or herself, encouraged to take risks and is continually reinforced for their efforts with positive affirmations and respect, will most likely develop a strong belief in him or herself and their capabilities. And yes, as they grow, their peers and teachers will and do influence their sense of self, but we can only hope the positive foundations we have nurtured are solidly in place. Here are my top ten tips to empower kids so they can develop into confident, happy, respectful, well-adjusted and resilient teenagers and adults.
1. Give your child choice.
From a young age, allow your child to make decisions that directly relate to them. For example, allow them to choose between cereal or toast for breakfast; the red, pink, blue or green toothbrush; the orange T-shirt or the striped T-shirt. And dare I say it… allow them to choose their own outfits! Choice and voice go together. Allowing your child choice gives them a voice and therefore a say in what directly relates to them and their daily life.
2. Listen to your child.
Not only listen to your child’s voice but note their moods and listen for what is NOT being said. When you ask your child how they are after kindergarten or school, REALLY ask them how they are. Stop your busy life and engage with your child. Find out what may be upsetting them or what may being giving them loads of joy. Ensure nothing is off the table and ensure you child can tell you or ask you about anything. And if you child doesn’t like some-one or doesn’t wish to go with a certain person, listen. I don't wish to scare you unnecessarily but this is one of the signs a child may indirectly provide if they are being sexually abused.
3. Teach your child Body Safety.
There is nothing more empowering than teaching your child Body Safety Education from as young as two. Providing children with knowledge about their personal boundaries and their rights, especially in regards to their body is incredibly empowering. A child educated in Body Safety knows to tell, tell, tell if they are touched inappropriately, and is far less likely to be a victim of a sexual predator. Pedophiles rely on children keeping secrets and not knowing the sexual touch is wrong. An educated child who knows to tell is their worst nightmare! See my parents’ guide: ‘Body safety Education — a parents’ guide to protecting kids from sexual abuse’ to educate both yourself and your child. We can’t always be with our children, for example, when they are on a sleepover or scout camp, but we can provide ‘a safety belt’ so to speak through teaching them Body Safety Education! See also my children’s book ‘Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept’ which is a great tool to open up the discussion about safe and unsafe touch.
4. Allow your child to take risks.
I know it’s scary but sometimes we have to trust our kids and allow them to take some risks. Try to stop yourself reaching out, and trust your child to climb that tree, go down that big slide and swim a lap alone. (Believe me, it is really hard to not say a word when your 21-year-old daughter decides to travel the world alone starting with a one-way ticket to Istanbul!) On that point, a friend of mine restricted her children from doing so many physical things that now, the youngest in particular, is fearful to do anything, and this has translated into adulthood. Hold yourself back, not your child, and allow them to explore their world.
5. Use your words wisely.
Encourage your child’s endeavours with words such clever, smart, beautiful inside and out, creative, talented, etc. Particularly amongst young girls, I suggest you do not continually focus on their physical appearance and focus more on their talents and creative pursuits. And if an argument ensues as they always do, remember what has been said can’t be unsaid. As one wise person said to me — choose your battles wisely as words can and do hurt. On a personal note, every night when my girls were younger, I would kiss them good night and I would whisper something positive from the day such as, ‘I really loved how you tried so hard in netball today. You always make me proud.’ Going to sleep with such a positive thought ringing in your ears can only be empowering!
6. Encourage your child to follow their interests.
Your child’s interests may not always be your interests but if your son or daughter loves to dance or play football for example, than be as supportive and encouraging as you can. I know! This should go without saying!
7. Allow your child to greet others in a way they are comfortable with.
When greeting relatives, in particular, and your child doesn’t want to kiss Uncle Jo or Grandma than allow your child to choose a high five, blow a kiss or provide a hand-shake. Just because your child is a child doesn’t mean they should be forced to show affection. This only gives them the message that their wishes don’t matter. Your child should give hugs and kisses willingly, and all adults and other children need to respect this. See my children’s book ‘No Means No!’ which is on this very topic!
8. Discourage gender stereotyping.
Ensure your child believes he or she can be and do anything they set their heart to. There are no set roles for men and women! Believe in your child. There are no limits. Discourage gender stereotyping and do no become a party to the media’s continual bombardment.
9. Encourage perseverance.
Life is not always easy, so encourage your child to try and keep on trying until they succeed or come close to it! I must admit I am a bit of a trier and it has held me in good stead!
10. Teach your child the ‘pirate stance’!
This a fun activity but actual an empowering one! Have your child stand for 30 seconds every second day (or so) like a pirate. Have your child place their hands on their hips, their legs slightly apart and their shoulders back. Research tells us this stance is incredibly empowering; particularly for girls. Give it a try yourself!
Bottom line is… the most empowering thing you can do as a parent for you child is to trust them, show respect and to encourage them in all they choose to do!
Jayneen Sanders (aka Jay Dale) is a teacher, author, mother of three daughters and an active advocate for sexual abuse prevention education and respectful relationships to be taught both in the home and in schools.
For more information on this topic and Jay’s children's books 'Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept', 'Pearl Fairweather Pirate Captain', ‘No Means No!’, ‘My Body! What I say Goes!’, ‘No Difference Between Us’, and her parents’ guide ‘Body Safety Education — A parents’ guide to protecting kids from sexual abuse’ go to www.e2epublishing.info
All books are also available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/2cC7QNb