Thanks, everyone, for all your words of encouragement on "How to raise happy children". As promised, this is the sequel of sorts.
I think I should say it right at the start that I am not a professional. I do not have any formal education in early childhood studies. All thoughts and opinions expressed are entirely my own and based on my own children, particularly my 5 year old daughter.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way....
Poppy is 5. Over the years, I've had a reasonable number of people come up to me and comment on her confidence. We're talking not just friends and family. I mean, my own mother would surely have a ton of good stuff to say about her granddaughter. But it's also mums that I've met for the first time at the playground. That's quite something, and I'm so grateful for all those who have taken their time to share their thoughts with me. I really am.
Again, there is the question of nature versus nurture. Is it really just in her? Or is it due to the things we do? I'm not sure. However, in school, I was hardly ever the one to want to be picked for answering questions. In fact, I was usually part of the majority of kids who tried to look inconspicuous and hoped not to be called upon.
Max recalls not being particularly Hermoine Granger-ish in school either. For the both of us, our confidence came when we were much older. For me, when I was in my teens, and Max, when he was at University.
Poppy, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. Her teachers tell us that she always has her hand up and sometimes even gets into squabbles with other children because she really just wants to answer all the time.
Here, I must say that we're on the topic of confidence, and not borderline bullying. Thankfully, her teachers have assured us that it's really just (a great deal of) enthusiasm and that she has learnt to take turns and to let others have a go as well.
Whether or not there is the confidence factor already in-built in Poppy, here are some things that we do in the hope of boosting her confidence and self-worth.
She handles her own battles
For a long time now, she's been approaching kids on her own and asking, "Do you want to play with me?" and a lot of times, the kids ignore her. Sometimes, they are just plain mean and say "No."
Together we've discovered that kids react better to "Can I play with you?" than "Do you want to play with me?" so that's what Poppy does these days. I let her ask the kids on her own instead of butting in. I think that many life skills can be learnt at the playground, and one of them is deadling with disappointment.
It's heartbreaking for a mum to watch her child be rejected by other kids, but as hard as it was, on many occasions, I held my tongue. Because she's got to learn to fight her own battles, and that Mama cannot always step in to save the day. Besides, stepping in would make me a bully.
Sometimes, they get into disagreements, and that's only normal. But what's important is that they learn to settle it on their own.
If we were still living in the "children must be seen and not heard" generation, my poor Poppy would have such a hard time. She is not the kind to sit still. She's always got to be on the move. So she likes to run a little head of us, and scoot a little ahead of us. But she knows that she can only go a certain distance. She always asks, "Mama, can I head off to the last pillar?" and goes off when I agree.
I love holding her hand, but I think letting her go sometimes does boost her confidence. But I've always got my eyes glued on her. Just call me Hawk-eyed Mama. And of course, she knows she can come back to me anytime, and I will be waiting.
She watches me as I cook sometimes and has been asking more and more to help. Now, we know that when kids help in the kitchen, sometimes they "help" more than help. I think it's important to set aside an extra minute to let them try out new things, things that they've seen you do but have yet to try. Like carrot peeling. Like cutting mushrooms. Like plucking the roots of veggies. It means that dinner will be served 10 minutes later, but it's all worth it. The look on her face when she competes her 'task' is priceless.
She also helps me pick fruit at the supermarket. At first I taught her how, and how it's purely her responsibility. Sometimes the apples are a little bruised, sometimes the bananas are a little squashed, but I try not to outrightedly second guess her judgement.
So the next time your child asks, "Mama, can I _________?", think about it: Can you say 'yes' instead of 'no'? Are you held back by the potential mess that will be created? Or can it be weaved into a lesson for your child to learn? I share a little here about how to build a sense of responsibility in preschoolers.
She orders her own food
Ok well, not everything. Just two things mainly - sugarcane juice from the same stall we have been patronizing for years, and ice cream, again the same order from the same shop. She requests for these treats and I'll say "Sure, but you go order them yourself ok?" and most times, she's ok with it. For sugarcane juice, it's hardly a problem because she knows the order, and she knows the stall owner. I can even be seated at the table, watching her as she places her order and delivers it. But for ice-cream, we stand in line together and she's sometimes shy when it comes to her turn.
I'm glad we have a regular stall that we patronize, who patronizes us and our little orderer. If you have one too, it's an excellent opportunity for kids to practice talking to "familiar strangers" i.e. people outside the family, with whom they are familiar with but not that close to.
In 2 years, she will enter Primary School (what?!), and will need to order her own food during recess breaks, so this is good practice for her.
We encourage her, and encourage her to encourage others too.
Here, there is the argument of not over encouraging because it might not drive the child to achieve, and simply settle for the easiest level because it's going to earn him praise from his folks anyway. Um, I actually don't buy into it. To us, we believe in encouraging. Always.
I always go through the files she brings back from school together with her and ask her about the work she's done and say things like "You wrote this word so well! I don't think I even knew this word when I was your age" (which is very true on many counts, particularly for Chinese characters).
Sometimes she says things like "Mama, I'm not a good drawer/writer. I wish I could draw as well as you". That's actually quite funny for me to hear because I am a horrible artist.
I tell her immediately that her drawings are beautiful (and I'm not lying), and that I can draw "so well" (ahem) because I am so much older than her, and have had many more years of practice that she. So for a 5 year old, she draws exceptionally well, and when she is much older, she will be much better too.
I think it's important for kids to know that there are different levels of "doing something well", and being small has its limits. A way that I explain it is by telling her that she, at age 5, can read beautifully and do cartwheels, and that's amazing. But her sister, at age 17 months, is starting to run and jump, and that's wonderful too. So she sees the parallel, and has also learnt to give her sister words of encouragement.
|She's cutting her own birthday cake. The pieces came out in all kinds of shapes and sizes but she was so proud that she did it all by herself|
Keep praising! As adults at the work place, we appreciate when colleagues or bosses give us a pat on the back. It encourages us to do more. The same goes for children. Praise them for bringing their empty cups to the sink, thank them for clearing their toys. They feel appreciated, and it also boosts their confidence.
We teach her to love herself
Some time ago, we had the whole "my classmates said my curly hair is yucky" episode. She was really affected by it. Even asked me to cut her hair so she could fit in with every other straight haired kid in class. I didn't. Not because I wanted her to stick out like a sore thumb, but because I wanted her to learn that she's beautiful the way she is and she should never feel like she should change just to fit in.
Recently it was "Don't tie my hair in two pony tails; some funny boy says he won't talk to me if my hair is tied like that". Well, what I would really like to do is to teach some funny boy some manners. But I leave that to his mother. My job is to make sure my daughter is not bothered by comments like these.
I've taught her "我是我,我很特别" ("I am me; I am special") and we say it together often. I've made her The Poppy Book (which is a book all about her, and the people that love her, and why she is so special), and it's a fast favourite with both Poppy and Calla.
I didn't notice until I penned it all down, but the common thing that runs through all these points seems to be that we guide her to fend for herself, but yet show that we are always there to catch her if she should fall.
Whether or not this will work for your child into turning him/her into Confident Personality of the Year, I don't know, but these aren't bad things to do. The worst that could happen is that he/she is smothered in love. Good luck!