Raising happy, responsible, successful kids takes a lot of work, but there are 4 important ways you can streamline your efforts and increase your chances for success. This week I discuss 4 winning methods for parents (and coaches) to build strong, trusting relationships with kids that provide kids with the confidence needed for maximizing their human potential.
The good news about the following tips is that we can all help kids develop in these areas, we just have to be willing to put in the work. The even better news is that when we commit to helping kids, the results are almost immediately witnessed — in the classroom, on the field, and especially at home. The tips provided below have been pulled together from countless experiences working with families at my practice over the years, and they are strategies that can be used with any child.
4 ways to empower your child
- Listen. When people think of communication, often the first thought is what you say and how you say it. In reality, however, verbal communication is really just a small part of the overall communication process. Active listening is vital for building strong relationships — especially with kids — and it relies on us zipping our lips, providing direct eye contact, and truly listening closely to what is being said (rather than simply working on your response while the speaker is still talking). Active listening requires that we care about what the speaker is saying, and that we clarify, paraphrase, and summarize points when needed so that we both gain a more clear understanding of the message, and show the speaker that we are engaged. It is important that we ask kids powerful questions, but even more important that we listen, support, and encourage them, too. If you want to empower a child to try his best, listen closely and show your unconditional love and support. Kids who feel their thoughts are validated gain self-confidence, try harder, and pick themselves up quicker when they fail.
- Lead by example. Don’t just “talk the talk,” but make sure to “walk the walk.” If you want your child to live a healthy life, refrain from using profanities, and respect people from all walks of life, are you willing to display those very same qualities? In youth sports I often hear parents and coaches talk about sportsmanship one moment, and then just minutes later insult an official or humiliate a kid who made an error on the field. Remember, what kids see will last a lot longer than what might appear to them as a hollow talk if your actions don’t follow your words.
- Model integrity. The layman definition of integrity is what you do when nobody is watching. For kids, learning integrity largely depends on how you view and interpret integrity, and the regularity in which you display acts of integrity. Do you help kids do things the right way, from preparing for academic projects to the means in which they train their bodies for sports? When you witness a kid make a healthy decision, do you immediately offer hearty praise and remind him or her of the importance of integrity? Remember, the more effort you put into developing integrity, the greater likelihood your child will take on the same importance in his or her life.
- Teach empathy. Sympathy is simply feeling sorry for someone, while empathy occurs when we take on deeper feelings of what someone else might be dealing with under trying times. Only when we truly try to understand another person’s stress do we begin to appreciate just how challenging their situation is, and the anxieties they might be experiencing trying to improve their situation in the future. For example, in sports when we witness an injury it’s easy to feel bad for the kid struggling to make his way off the field (sympathy), but what about all the other questions and stressors that child might have? Will I play again, or is this a permanent injury? Will I lose the close relationships built through sports while being away from the team? Once the injury heals, will I ever play at a high level again? In order to attempt to understand these concerns, we must use empathy and put ourselves in the athletes shoes.
While the ideas above might seem relatively easy and straightforward, developing the necessary trust and rapport so that you can teach important developmental lessons will bring many challenges. Kids may not always want to talk, they will lose their focus and attention, and they may not immediately understand the deeper level of why you are teaching them things like integrity and empathy. In fact, “selling” these messages may end up being a lot more challenging than simply being aware of the important lessons to teach kids as they grow.
Listen to kids and help them gain confidence in their abilities, lead by example with your actions, emphasize the importance of integrity, and help kids display empathy to those dealing with difficult situations. Doing these things on a regular basis will empower your child and help create the mindset needed for lifelong success.