Day in and day out many children experience loss and failure. Whether these experiences crush or strengthen an individual child depends, in part, on their ability to be self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency and belief in oneself are qualities that reflect the important human capacities to face, overcome, and be strengthened — or even transformed by — the adversities of life, something we all have to deal with.
Self-sufficient individuals believe that their actions are guided by personal decisions and efforts. Teach them that what counts is not that they always triumph at any attempt they make, but rather they should persevere despite a first sign of possible defeat. Learning to accept failure and to continue pursuing their goals is an important tenet for life.
Children need love and trust, hope and autonomy. Along with safe havens, they need safe relationships that can foster friendships and commitment. Self-sufficiency is developed by having caring and supportive relationships accompanied by positive and high expectations as well as opportunities for meaningful participation. However, your style of giving parental care must be geared to your individual child’s temperament. Pay attention to how your child’s personality will impact his ability to handle failure and life’s challenges.
Tell your children, “I love you despite your making mistakes. I love you for who you are now.” Express your love and affection both verbally and physically in a genuine manner consistent with your personality.
The following concrete tools can be used to help build self-sufficiency and a good self-concept in your child:
- Teach and model calming strategies to help your child modulate their feelings and impulsive behaviors.
- Be consistent in what you say and what you do.
- Model your life in the way you want your child to behave.
- Set up consistent expectations and behaviors that are part of growing up in your family and society; and give explanations for your expectations and rules.
- Provide discipline not out of anger, but with consequences that are naturally and logically related to the misbehavior.
- Teach alternate behaviors that satisfy the need motivating the undesirable behavior.
Always encourage communication about issues, expectations, and feelings. Be approachable and as nonjudgmental as possible. Always emphasize that you still love your child no matter what he does, but that you disapprove of a particular behavior. Don’t overgeneralize his behavior—deal with it as a single occurrence. Avoid using overgeneralized terms such as, “You never do your chores, you’re always sloppy.” Blanket statements leave little room for improvement and hurt self-esteem. Your child may begin to believe your messages.
Praise your child when he perseveres with a difficult assignment, in addition to when he accomplishes a goal. Pay attention to the process as well as the result. Provide opportunities for your child to practice dealing with problems, too: Don’t entirely solve your child’s problems: allow him to use you as a springboard for ideas; let him project the possible consequences of a particular solution.
Also, allow him or her to take responsibility for his mistakes and help him problem-solve other ways to handle similar situations. To over console or over indulge is as bad as being overly strict and intolerant of your child’s mistakes. Provide your child with challenges that—with a realistic amount of effort—he is likely to achieve. There is a fine line between giving too few challenges and creating an impossible task. If your child does not meet the expectation, spend time helping them analyze the reasons for failure and find possible solutions. Let your child know that disappointment is part of life and that what matters is to pick ourselves up and try again. Let him or her realize that he won’t prevail all the time but that attempting is an achievement as well: if your child is afraid to move out of his or her comfort level, your child has already quit before he or she has had the chance to succeed. Be certain that your child knows that you believe in him and that he can be successful.
Allow your child to choose what he or she wants to be in life. Your child is more likely to do well at what he loves and has a passion for. Content and healthy children have good self-esteem, are self-directed, and are realistic about their choices. Supporting your child to find his own sense of self will help him or her cultivate a healthy and successful life. It is important that he or she realizes that he or she has strengths and weaknesses and cannot be good at everything; help your child recognize that pursuing unrealistic goals only leads to loss of self-confidence and feelings of defeat: instead he or she needs to pursue goals that are realistic and match his skill set. While instilling self-confidence in our children is important, it must be dosed with realistic expectations. The paths a child can travel to success are many—therefore, don’t be blinded by your own wishes for your child. Let him, with your guidance, find his own path to success.