Our kids are living in a very different world to the one we grew up in. Gone are the days of walking to friends, taking buses to school, riding bikes around the neighbourhood, staying out until dark. For the most part our kids are dropped and carried, continuously supervised and never leave our sight. Of course there are advantages and disadvantages to both, but the one thing that all this constant supervision does is erodes a child’s sense of confidence. They don’t get a chance to show their independence, to tackle things for themselves, to take responsibility. So how can we cultivate a sense of confidence in our children and still keep them safe in an uncertain world?
We need to create experiences for our children where they can feel that they are operating in and mastering the adult world on their own. Small moments can make all the difference. Here are some ideas to get you going, but I encourage you to do some brainstorming, start a discussion with friends, hop onto the Internet, and add to this list.
When in a place where you feel safe to do so, allow your kids to leave you and meet up again. For example, when I visit my chiropractor, who operates from a quiet building, I let the kids take the lift and I take the stairs and meet them at the top.
Let them drive the car! Obviously this needs to be in an appropriate place (in a game reserve, abandoned parking lot etc.), but letting kids control a machine like a car really boosts their sense of accomplishment. Let them sit on your lap and steer if they’re still small, or if they’re a bit older, let them take control. Children blossom when you place trust in them to do things that are ‘beyond their age’. We go to Magaliesburg regularly and allow our kids (age 6 and 8) to drive the car in the reserve. They talk about it for weeks afterwards.
Treat your children as equals. Let them use the same crockery and cutlery as the rest of the family. Trusting young children with sharp knives, for instance, is a good confidence booster. They will need some ground-rules to prevent accidents, but this also teaches responsibility. Our kids have been using Victorinox knives since the age of 4.
Don’t hold your kids’ hands through everything that they do. Wait outside the shop and let your child go in and purchase something for themselves, park outside the library and let them go in and choose books on their own, encourage them to ask other adults questions when they need something instead of doing it for them.
Let your kids do some ‘dangerous’ things – play with fire, use power tools, climb trees, burn things with a magnifying glass, throw darts, climb on the roof, change a tyre, tightrope walk, blow things up. If I think about my own childhood we made our own go-carts and raced them on public roads, we made home-made bombs, played in the mud, burned things, jumped off the roof, used sharp knives to make spears out of sticks, camped in the garden, did woodworking, climbed trees and swam in rivers. There is no reason that our kids can’t still have some of these essential experiences. They’ll learn a lot more than sitting indoors doing homework or playing on an iPad.
Let your kids live a little. Yes, it’s scary as a parent to let go of some control. Yes, they may get hurt and may even need some stitches or Burnshield here and there. Yes, they may damage some stuff. But they may just surprise you and rise to the challenges that they face and gain some confidence and self-esteem and maybe even have some fun along the way!