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The Value of Self-Confidence And How Children Lose It



From early beginnings, confidence and esteem eternally revolve in a subtle reinforcement of self-worth, each aspect quietly influencing, yet being dominated by, the other. Building personal esteem in children is thus the first step towards true contentment and a more competent and rewarding life for them. High self-esteem increases their confidence which helps them gradually to learn to appreciate and respect themselves. In turn children are helped to respect others, to improve their interactions, relationships, achievements and personal happiness.

However, parents tend to focus on their children's negative aspects and become unusually alert to what they do not like, often forgetting to reinforce what they do enjoy about their offspring. This approach leads to low self-esteem which tends to cause fear and insecurity in the child. When that child becomes an adult, other people's desires are likely to take preference over his/her own and the harsh voice of disapproval being cultivated inside them will cause them to stumble at every hurdle. Eventually, any kind of challenge appears impossible. But true self-esteem values itself. It says, 'I can do',' I can have' and 'I can make my life what I desire it to be'. Low self-esteem simply says, 'I'm not good enough' or 'I can't'.

In order to build self-confidence, children must not only experience success, but also have more opportunities to succeed. 'Failures' (which are really temporary setbacks) should be small and should teach the child something useful. Above all, children must not be protected from such 'failures', or from finding out the consequences for themselves, as parents are apt to do. Otherwise, the first time youngsters experience a major setback they will not be able to deal with it. It's the little perceived 'failures' and frustrations of life, the very things parents themselves have experienced in their own development yet wish to prevent for their children, that build personal confidence, resilience, security, a feeling of competence and self-reliance. When they are denied their share of 'failures' or opportunities to act on their own because of being over-protected, children become anxious, incapable and dependent. They also tend to be early underachievers, lacking that basic belief in their abilities which is necessary for successful development.

How often do you praise?
Importantly, the routine interactions and expectations within the family underpin self-confidence in children. How often do you openly and readily recognise your child for being successful? Compare that to how often you notice your child when he is doing something wrong. How often do you praise her? Hug and embrace her? Affirm him? Tell him how much he means to you? Even the worst-behaved children are successful and positive most of the time.

It is a constant attention to negativity, an unrealistic desire for perfection, a distrust of our children, a desire for them to live out our dreams in exactly the way we wish, as well as a failure to give children the necessary room for their own growth, which strangle any form of positive behaviour and keep us disappointed in them as people.

To compensate for this feeling of disappointment and their own low self esteem, an increasing proportion of the younger generation is now attempting to imitate a celebrity whom they idolise. In many ways this is an attempt to disguise the lack of confidence in themselves by trying to portray a new look or face to other people. They pretend to be someone else, especially for the benefit of the significant others, like their friends, from whom they are striving to gain approval or recognition. Imitating a star is fine, but not at the expense of one's own body or health. Some people might take it to the extreme where they develop an eating disorder, like anorexia, in an attempt to alter their physical appearance to resemble someone they admire. However, the most common influence on the individual is the effect of the environment where she/he grew up and the conditions of family life.

The way the young child is affirmed and reinforced by those closest to him/her sets the seal for the way they view themselves, how they perceive their value and the degree of confidence they develop in their abilities. If the treatment is faulty or dysfunctional, it will alter the child's self perception in a negative way, inducing doubt, insecurity and low esteem which ultimately affects their self-belief and confidence. Only positive action, love and trust, on the part of parents can set the standards for better emotional feelings in their children.

Do you think your child could be a failure?
Whatever you do, don't show it.



Parents who think their child is a failure are primarily reflecting the subconscious thoughts about their past, expecting that child to fulfil the hopes and dreams that haven't materialised for them. They tend to seek a career ideal for the child's future, regardless of what the child might wish, and when things do not happen as expected, or the child does not deliver, he/she is then regarded as a 'failure'.

The tragedy of such thoughts is that, should they be given life and the child is repeatedly shown up to be less than successful, it is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Many of those parents would have come from dysfunctional families, where they were perhaps starved of affection and reinforcement from their own parents, and now pass on the baton of set expectations and poor emotional nurturing to their own children. Caught in a cycle of negativity, where their own dreams were dashed by parental put-downs, these parents find it hard to be otherwise and so unwittingly perpetuate the 'failure' cycle.

Such parents are often perfectionists who believe they are failures already and are trying to help their children avoid their fate. But often they mainly make things worse because they tend to be superficial in their expectations, rigid in their approach and selfish and shortsighted in their demands. They care mainly about performance, getting things 'right', and achieving only the 'best'. However, for their kids there is no place for growing, for making mistakes, or for exploration and discovery in their own way, for any real enjoyment of childhood or being themselves. Such children are usually very controlled, expected to behave in a certain way and to achieve certain things at certain points in their development. Any deviation from the expected path of success is then perceived to be a 'failing'.

Yet the worst thing any parent can do to a child is to tell them they are, or treat them as, perceived 'failures'. Children are nurtured by their parents who set the standards and the precedents, the parameters and the goals. Thus a child spends his/her life trying to please their parents, to get the coveted approval they seek while reinforcing those standards and expectations. When all they get back is the knowledge that they are failed, inadequate beings - especially when they have their whole life to blossom into what they want, it really destroys their motivation, self belief and aspirations. In many cases, it can have a tragic effect on that child for which many never recover. In fact, a feeling that they really are failures accounts for some of the greatest underachievement of our children today. They are often not equipped with the emotional maturity or resources to change that negative perception into something more empowering and uplifting later on.

Childhood is an exciting time to be armed with the possibilities and potential of life itself. When that potential is killed by negative labelling to early, or there is no trust in the child to develop in any satisfactory way, the self-love, the purpose and the aspirations are likely to disappear too.

When is the best time to teach children household chores?



Q. Some parents say that children will be taught some household chores when they are teenagers. There are some who also say that it is good to teach children when they are little, just by letting them help when you are doing household work. I remember my mother did not let me do any work because she said I might not be able to do it right and she would have to redo it which was time consuming. I ended up knowing nothing until I reach my teen age years. What is your idea about this? When is the right time suppose to be?

A. The best time to start teaching a child is when they are ready to learn, when they actually ask you to share things or want to do things by themselves. Often we don't allow children to learn new things because we are very controlling and always want it done our way. Yet, by depriving children of the opportunity to show what they can do, we rob them of the confidence, self belief and experience necessary for their own development. By the time the child reaches teenage years, it would be too late to teach them about jobs they should be doing.

They should start from about 7 years old, or earlier if they show the interest, with simple things relating to looking after themselves, then graduate by 10/11 to giving a hand in the house with dishes etc. By mid-teens they would then have a healthy appreciation of their role in the family and feel a sense of value and appreciation in doing it.

My daughter used to have long thick hair and I remember the first time she asked me if she could comb her own hair to go to school. She was just over 6 years old. I took a huge gulp because I could see the results already. I could also see the neighbours taking one look at her and saying how neglected she was! However, I decided that, since she wanted to learn, that was the best way to teach her, and it would encourage me to gradually trust her to do things. So I made a bargain with her. I told her that she could comb her hair twice each week and I would do it all other times until she got used to it. I will never forget the first morning she combed it herself. I wanted to die, seeing the state of it, but I let it go and praised her for her efforts. One month on, as she slowly got used to doing it herself, the results were improving. A few months later and she was combing it herself most days and feeling very proud of it. By the time she was 8 she didn't want me to do it any more.

That's how she gradually learnt everything in the home, which turned her into one of the most confident teenagers - and achiever - I ever saw: fearless, determined and very self-assured. I am very happy with that. It taught me as the parent that there are always different routes to the same end, and not just our own, if we are only prepared to trust our children to develop their own paths. Most important, the pride the would feel in themselves for doing it, as valued members of the family, would be incalculable.

Is it Right to use Corporal Punishment to Discipline Children?



In my childhood, smacking was not done with love or compassion for the child, but in anger and resentment. Children somehow paid for the parent's frustration with life and lack of parenting skills by being first in the line of fire. I remember at 15 years old admiring the son of the owner of the local cinema and felt very pleased when he finally noticed me and said hello one day. I shyly answered back with a big smile and stopped to gossip. What I did not know was that my mother had passed by on the bus and saw me chatting and was waiting for me when I got home with a thick tyre strip at the ready. I was beaten to a pulp.

I could hardly walk to school the next day, just for saying hi to a boy on my way from school. My mother was a very loving woman in other ways, who would have given her life for us. Her life revolved totally around us, sacrificing her needs many times, especially after my father died, so we could eat. Yet she was so willing to chastise us at every turn, which made no sense at home but fitted into the wider society perfectly.

Jamaican culture was a controlling one and parents had carte blanche authority to do what they liked. Disciplining the child came first before praise, hugs or value. But beatings were not always deliberate acts of cruelty. They were hand-me-down parenting of the worst kind stemming from similar actions to our parents that, in the absence of knowledge and education, were regarded as the 'best way' to bring up children. So we grew up in tremendous fear and hostility. In view of this unrelenting background of violence, I resolved three things before I emigrated to Britain as a young adult: never to smack my kids, always to explain my actions to them and to punish them by withholding things they liked.

Home Ethos Which Worked

I had a simple philosophy with my children, which went something like this: We all have a role to play in the family which is crucial for our success. If I am not doing my role (which at the time was keeping the homestead) they wouldn't be looked after. If their father wasn't doing his role of being the breadwinner, we couldn't eat. Their role was simply to keep their space tidy, make independent decisions, not follow the crowd, and perform brilliantly at school. If they failed to perform, they could not have their 'pay' which was being allowed out with friends, or having the things they valued. It worked fantastically well except for the day my daughter of 9 years was sent upstairs to her room 'with no dinner' for a misdemeanor. She stood at the bottom of the stairs, looked at me defiantly and shouted: " I didn't want your poxy food, anyway" and scuttled upstairs quickly before I could react!

I never once used violence on my children and they are now great achieving, warm human beings who loved to bring their friends home to meet us. My own upbringing would have seemed so alien to them. So, I am not for corporal punishment at all, though I recognise that some parents would need some awareness of the alternatives before they relinquish the right to smack.

I do not agree with one writer who said that smacking was the 'lazy solution'. There is nothing lazy about smacking. It is often a sign of deep frustration in a parent, a lack of appreciation of the alternatives they have and a lack of confidence in being the right kind of parent as expected of them. More a pointer to their feelings of impotence at such times than mere cruelty. There but for the grace of God...as they say.

But what do you think?

Are Children More at Risk Now Through Parent Pressure?



A man in Philadelphia last December beat his 17 month old toddler to death because she accidentally pulled over his Xbox 360 by its cord. The man was playing a 'violent combat epic' at the time and the 25 year old accused said he hit her because he thought she had broken his console. Six months later in the UK, a very successful, high powered millionaire businessman was sectioned under the Mental Health Act for battering his 2 year old daughter to death apparently because she disturbed his lie-in. He is reported to have 'heard voices' telling him to kill her. Is there a connection between these two incidents?

It seems there is. Children are increasingly at risk in a world where the high pressure caused by the demands of our jobs leave little time for quality family time. This man was a top executive in a big organisation who seemed to have it all in his life - the status, the family, the mansion, the money - yet could beat his young child in such a way as to kill her without mercy. According to the latest report from the United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF) two children under the age of 15 die from abuse in the UK every week. Internationally, the new figures show that five nations: Belgium, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Hungary and France have levels of child maltreatment deaths that are four to six times higher than the average for the leading countries.

In the United States, where the little girl was murdered because of the Xbox, fatal child abuse rates are even worse: between 10 and 15 times higher than the countries at the top of the abuse table. The factors which precipitate abuse seem to be growing with our increasingly impersonal lives. Many parents are also becoming addicted to technology with little time for their children, being so engrossed in it that a child seeking attention, affection and love at the wrong time could be asking for trouble. That suggests a huge decline in what we value now in society.

We are gradually moving into an age where many children have to compete with technology and their parent' jobs for attention. There is constant distraction from all kinds of sources which rob our children of validation and reinforcement in their family. But to be so at risk, even with their lives, should cause us as adults to stop and consider where we are really heading just now. And is that destination really worth it in the end?

What makes a young 8 year old want to hang himself?



One of the saddest stories has to be the inquest into the death of a British eight year old boy, Joshua Aldred, who hung himself, with his tie in his bedroom last June, because he lost his mother and grandfather from cancer a few months apart. It was tragic in the extreme. What could make a child of such tender years feel so desperate as to take his own life?

It is not fair to comment on his particular circumstances because one does not know the family's background details, but there are usually two main reasons why children reach that level of despair when there has been a crisis in the family.

The first is a feeling of being responsible in some way for what happened, especially if they had been reprimanded in any way near the time of the event. Children are very sensitive about love, how much they receive from those they care about and how valued they are. If anything goes wrong, in an irrational way, and mainly because it is beyond their capacity to help or change, the first person they blame is themself. Many of them are likely to feel, and believe, that, were it not for their presence, their action or something they said, things might have been better or never happened. Sadly they brood on this self-blame for a while until the situation is remedied or their circumstances prove otherwise. Some children never lose that self-blame at all and carry it throughout their life, especially if something happened which was ongoing, or which they believe they were openly or covertly being blamed for.

The second is sheer neglect after a loss. Often some parents are so disconsolate with the loss of a partner that they tend to forget their children, being temporarily blind to the fact that the child has suffered a great loss too and needs to be comforted even more, to be loved and to be valued, to be reassured, to talk about their feelings and to be helped over that crisis. They are sometimes left to cope on their own while well-meaning others sympathise around them. If they cannot really understand the loss, and/or they were very close to that parent, they would be going through great trauma. Sometimes frequent hugs and just telling that child how valued they are and what a help they have been, making them feel useful and supportive, and encouraging them to talk about the loved one can be tremendous to help them cope with their grief.

Unfortunately, experience has shown that it is at those very times when the surviving parents are incapable of showing that value to their child because they need that love and reassurance too. Not only that, a few parents also subconsciously blame their children for their loss, which is shown in their actions. The kids become sensitive to the negative vibes and retreat into themselves. Often parents don't even realise they are doing it, but the need for someone to blame at a time of crisis means that someone close to us will always be in the firing line for a little while, or forever!

In our technological age, children are being increasingly isolated from their pre-occupied parents for a variety of reasons. At times of death and emotional loss they really need supporting more than ever. It is natural to miss a parent when they are gone and feel very low. But that alone does not push children over the edge. What tends to be the final straw in emotional pain is when a vacuum develops around the child which is not being filled by anyone else. It has the potential to be pretty lethal in its consequences for that child who might gradually feel unwanted and abandoned and simply cannot cope.

Should parents raise their children without television?



Nothing in life is either all bad or all good. Television has much to offer, to inform to educate and to entertain, when taken in moderation. It has changed many lives for the better an also kept many distracted child riveted to something of value, thought at the same time being a source of negative actions for others.

Furthermore, children have a yearning need to belong. If they are raised without television, while all their friends/peer group have them, it could rob them of opportunities for interaction, for feeling included and for developing their own opinions.

My children grew up with television that was moderated in both time and content and are very clever and successful adults. So, personally, I would say a firm no to that question.

But what say you?

How do you handle questions about sex with your children?



Q. Are you comfortable and confident in your answers when your child comes to you with questions regarding sex Do you brush off your child because you feel he/she is too young? When do you feel is a good age to talk to your child about sex? Who is better at handling questions like this in your household, you or your partner?

A. By being as honest and open with them as possible, and in the simplest way. Many parents naturally feel very self conscious about the whole subject of sex and their children, but if a child is asking, that is the time to tell them, in simple terms, how they came about, stressing the love element between the parents that makes it all happens. Telling the child yourself is far better than them hearing it in an unwholesome way from someone else at school who might have even less knowledge! It seems that our approach to discussing sex is heavily influenced by how we were brought up to deal with it, whether it was an unmentionable subject in our homes, or it was accepted in discussions. So the most uncomfortable reactions are likely to be from parents whose own childhood had sex as a taboo.

Yet, if we love all aspects of our lives and benefit from them, we cannot feel ashamed to talk about them. Everything is a part of us. We cannot single out some parts for praise and hide the others! If we accept that sex is a function of our bodies, like eating and drinking, except that it also involves someone else, we will feel more confident about discussing it. If it still presents a problem talking about it, there are many leaflets around for youngsters which you could get to give them to read, if they can read. I did that with my daughter when she was nearing her periods. I got her a couple of leaflets about what to expect and how to cope with them, told her to read them and then come and ask me questions, if there was anything she still wanted to know or didn't understand. It worked like a dream. No angst or problems. So that could be one way around it, which then takes the onus off you to have to talk about it. But it does depend on the age involved.

I think because women find it easier to express things, they tend to be the ones expected to do the sex talks! However, many families seem to raise awareness according to the gender of the child: mothers talk to daughters and fathers talk to sons to lessen any potential embarrassment. No child is too young to talk about sex, but, as a former teacher, I have found that a child is truly ready for the knowledge when they begin to ask or become curious, not when someone else thinks they are ready.

Should School Children Wear Uniforms?



There will always be an argument for and against school uniforms. But though uniforms rob children of their individuality and waste much staff time in enforcing the prescribed dress codes, I am in favor of school uniforms for four main reasons:

1. The uniform itself is a source of identity and provides a sense of belonging. To many children, who believe their chosen school is a sort of achievement, a school uniform is a mark of inclusion; something to boast about, to be proud of and to feel empowered wearing it. There is nothing like getting the opportunity to wear the uniform of a school which one has long admired and wanted to attend.

I remember when I was a sixth-former I felt particularly thrilled with my uniform because it was slightly different from the rest of the school. The little straw boater I cocked neatly on my head, which only older pupils could wear, told the world I was a senior. And in the world of teenagers growing up, such silly demarcations, especially in the absence of designer labels, helped us to feel more adult. Other schoolmates had to give us due respect too and we enjoyed that exclusion as a privileged group.

2. A uniform immediately dispenses with the child's need to worry about what to wear each day. It also relieves the parent of having to spend an awful lot of money helping the child to keep up with the school Joneses in current fashion and style. It reduces dress rivalry and at least allows less well-off children to feel included and on par with wealthy friends and classmates. I came from a very poor family because my father died the year I started high school. My uniform was not only chic and smart, but it saved me from having to wear the same clothes over and over each week. My mother, now a single parent with four mouths to feed, couldn't afford to buy too many clothes for me. The uniform became a godsend. Though many days I also couldn't afford lunch, no one knew that because I looked and acted no differently in every other respect. I felt terribly proud of who I was, being given the opportunity to go to one of Jamaica's most famous grammar schools, and felt totally accepted by my friends and classmates.

3. The uniform allows a sense of unified purpose to develop, particularly in rivalry with other establishments. If no one could tell who was a part of their team, because everyone wore what they liked, it would not engender such fierce support and loyalty. But the the specific school uniform demarcates territory and affiliation and provides a great sense of purpose, pride and mutual support for team members. It is also a fantastic feeling when one uniform wins out over another!

4. A group of kids in uniform, especially one with a long tradition, appears much smarter and eye catching than in individual styles. The overall effect of a uniform that represents a particular history, ethos, philosophy and objective, like Eton and Harrow in Britain, never fails to draw admiring glances and aspirational goodwill. The fact that it is likely to cost far less than having to maintain a daily wardrobe, wins out every time too.

For children who can afford a lot of clothes, one would think that a uniform would be superfluous to some extent. However, there are very few children, as I was, who would not be thankful for a uniform because it clearly reinforces their parity with others and their sense of belonging to a wider, reassuring community.

The True Role of Parents in Providing Self-Confidence for Their Children



The root of our behaviour can be found way back in time, especially when we were young. The most important cause being the attitude of our parents. This is crucial to feelings we develop about ourselves. When parents provide love, care and respect, children have a solid foundation for self-love and acceptance. If one or both parents are excessively critical, demanding or overprotective, discouraging moves toward personal independence, children may come to believe that they are incapable, inadequate or inferior. One of the strongest circles of low self-esteem in a child starts with constant criticism (which reflects the parents’ own frustration, anger and low esteem), leading to negative feedback, inevitably leading to the child’s low opinion of him/herself. 

There is also the acceptance of that negativity which children carry throughout their life, without even realising that they are a walking advertisement for poor self-image. If parents simply encourage their children’s moves toward self-reliance, and accept and love their offspring as they are, especially when they make mistakes, children will gradually learn to accept themselves, their potential and limitations – the first crucial step in developing confidence. Children from African Caribbean homes, particularly Black males, and girls from Asian households (both environments which are gender biased, high on negative discipline and low on displays of affection and positive feedback) are especially prone to the twin evils of low confidence and self-esteem. 

Inconsistent Boundaries for Children

Among African Caribbeans, a high proportion of them being single parents, the confidence of children is often being undermined, primarily through a lack of consistent boundaries (being ‘spoilt’) from an early age, or the boundaries being too tight or strict. For example, perhaps through not being able to afford adequate child minders, being over-protective, or through sheer ignorance, parents insist on, inappropriately, taking their young children (especially those under seven years old) to parties and late night events, regardless of the inconvenience to their hosts or the effect on their young ones. More importantly, this action provides no boundaries or consistency for the children who are often allowed up to all hours of the night. Come the day the child cannot accompany the parent out, for whatever reason, or cannot stay up as late as the norm, he/she becomes fretful, anxious and unsettled. Positive discipline is then undermined and childrearing becomes more problematic. 

Young children need to have firm but adaptable rules which both protect and improve their inexperience. If they have no boundaries at all in an inconsistent regime, being allowed to do anything they like without regard for others, they will not be able to develop the self-confidence to look after themselves, or to blend easily with peers, and will gradually become insecure. This results in either a retreat into themselves to escape their fears or becoming more deviant, anti-social and uncontrollable by projecting them on to others. A child who has been told repeatedly he is good for nothing will turn into a man who believes that he is worthless, useless and has no talent.  He will either be apathetic, lacking the necessary confidence to make the right decisions for a successful existence, or, more likely, will settle for just what he can get.

Worse still, he could decide that, if he is already worthless, he cannot change so he might as well be deviant, an attitude which does not really depend upon the approval of others; one that actively creates conflicting situations he can easily control. If he chooses this way, his new false assurance will encourage negative actions which will be channelled towards his community or himself. We have lots of juvenile delinquency around to remind us of this fact. Alternatively, despite the negative start, depending on her own character, degree of resilience and level of support, she may try harder to carve her own future by positively utilising any encouragement received from others in later life which will help to stem the negative start.