How To Raise Great Kids
That’s what it all comes down to, doesn’t it? We all want to raise great kids. We see others who are able to stand up to bullies, manage their time, work a crowd, or roll with the punches, and we think, “That’s what I want for my kids.” The question is, how do we make that happen?
Dr. Sarah Landy is a psychologist and the author of Pathways to Competence: Encouraging Healthy Social And Emotional Development In Young Children. Dr. Landy has identified three main skill areas that lead to competence, which is simply defined as a person’s ability to do a task well. When we’re talking about children, though, we usually mean something more than that, something along the lines of wanting our kids to rise to the occasion and handle themselves well, regardless of the situation they find themselves in. While that might seem like a tall order, you might be surprised – and relieved – to learn that many of the competence-building actions she discusses, are things you’re doing already.
First of all, she talks about self esteem. I love and always refer to Jane Nelsen’s definition of self esteem: the belief that I count, that I am capable, and that I can control what happens to me or how I respond. So we help our children build their competence by allowing them to feel as though they matter to us and that they belong (“secure attachment” in psychobabble). And the more opportunities we give them to feel capable and in control, the better. This is something that modern parents have consistently fallen down on – we routinely and regularly assume that children are much less capable than they actually are. We expect so little of them today, assuming that they aren’t ready for responsibilities that we regularly had at that same age, whether it’s walking to school alone, unloading the dishwasher, or dealing with the consequences of their actions. Kids will rise to wherever the bar is set, and if we set it too low, not only do they not have the opportunity to develop the life skills they’ll need to succeed in the world as an adult, but their sense of capability and competence is majorly thwarted. There’s no better confidence builder than tackling a challenge and nailing it.
Next, Dr. Landy talks about social skills. Communication is so much a part of our relationships, and yet we spend so little time as a culture developing good social skills. Just know that every time you encourage a child to articulate what she’s feeling with words rather than fists, or you work with her to say what she means and means what she says, you’re building social skills and competence. Helping kids to put themselves into other people’s shoes and develop empathy, as well as teaching them how to regulate their emotions are both critical social skills that go far beyond not fighting in the school yard or hitting his little sister when she breaks his Lego.
And lastly, Dr. Landy focuses on planning and problem solving. Again, back to our definition of self esteem, we’re back to capability and control. How can I control what happens to me, or how I respond? How I can plan ahead so that I am increasing the chance of the result I want? If something doesn’t go my way, then what? What else can I do to influence the outcome of the situation? Dr. Landy makes a point of discussing how important play is to developing these particular skills. And self-discipline falls into this category, too. Being able to regulate our emotions, delay gratification, and behave in an age- and situation-appropriate way is critical to being truly competent.
So what does this all mean for us parents? Keep fighting the good fight – what you’re doing is making a difference and laying the foundation for the kind of adult you’d be proud to call your son or daughter. So many of the elements that build competence come naturally in parenting. And with a little dedicated focus to building up those areas that could use a bit more attention, we can use every day as a learning opportunity or a chance to acknowledge and encourage our kids in the efforts they’re making and the people they’re becoming.