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5 ways to inspire confidence in your kids

Photography by ©iStockphoto.com/Photolyric Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photography by ©iStockphoto.com/Photolyric

Family

5 ways to inspire confidence in your kids

My oldest child is heading off to kindergarten in a few weeks. We met the teachers and visited her new classroom. She has the tools she’ll need to start her budding student life, but there’s one thing I’m worried she’s missing – and it’s not something I can stuff into that adorable pink knapsack I spent too much money on.

It’s confidence. And there’s the rub: All parents want to give their children the best start to the new school year that they can – and there’s nothing more important than arming your child with a healthy sense of self-worth. But ultimately, it has to come from within.

"Good self-esteem impacts every aspect of development throughout life. How a person values herself and how she gets along with others both stem from a positive self-image," says Janice Ebenstiner, a child and family therapist in Vancouver. "Children who have a healthy sense of self tend to be more successful academically, socially and physically."

Jeanne Williams, a registered psychologist in Edmonton, says children who have good self-confidence are more likely to try new things because they have less fear of failure. "And they’re willing to stand up to their peers when necessary, because they aren’t dependent on their approval. This is important to develop before kids go to junior high," she says. But boosting your youngster’s self-image demands more than a pat on the back and congratulations for a job well done.

While there’s been a lot of hype from parenting experts about steering clear of overpraising, there are plenty of ways to help kids be – and feel – their best. Here’s how.

1. Get active
Many studies, as well as the physical activity guidelines for children released this past March by the Canadian Paediatric Society, have shown that being active can do wonders for a child’s confidence. Kids who get the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity each day have been shown to have: increased concentration; better grades; healthier hearts, bones and muscles; more time to socialize with peers; lower stress; and better self-esteem.

Mix up your child’s activities. If he’s bored with the usual soccer lessons and biking, sign him up for a circus arts program. Or check out the latest craze, Kangoo Jumps, which look like ski boots on springs. They’re fun, and if your child is slightly overweight, they’re perfect: The springs reduce joint impact. And the boots are heavy, which helps kids burn extra calories.

Page 1 of 3 -- Learn how to teach your child to celebrate their differences on page 2

2. Celebrate the differences
Toronto mom Jill Monsod’s daughter Nixon was born with neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1), a genetic disorder often characterized by skin discolourations, which occurs when a baby is born with a mutation in one chromosome. Now a curious toddler, Nixon has noticed several of the brown birthmarks on her body, and she’s realized that most other people don’t have them.

"I didn’t know how to teach her about her skin, so I wrote and illustrated a book about her," Jill says. "I wanted to show her that being different is beautiful."

The book, Beautiful, Little, Different Nixie, discusses the birthmarks associated with the disease that Nixon has, and ends with Nixie explaining to her friend, freckly little Hanna, that she’s beautiful because she’s different. Jill believes the story she created has raised her daughter’s self-esteem.

"The other day she pointed to three of the birthmarks on her leg and said, ‘It’s dirty.’ I told her, ‘No, Nixie. Those are the spots that make you beautiful. Remember your book?’ She repeated ‘beautiful’ and smiled."

3. Send them to a workshop
Signing your kids up for something special will do more than squash their boredom and make you the coolest parent on the block; it will give them a sense of pride when they finish their day or weekend-long adventure.

If you have a budding actress, sign her up for an improv course. If your tween loves being in the kitchen learning new recipes, he might enjoy a gourmet cooking workshop geared to kids. And if your child likes building things and using tools, check out simple woodworking classes, where she can learn to make a wooden truck, birdhouse or bulletin board to take home. The child will also leave with a new skill and, more important, a real sense of accomplishment.

Page 2 of 3 -- Discover how humour can empower your child on page 3

4. Form a group outside of school
"It’s really important not to neglect your children’s strengths outside of academia," says Ebenstiner. "Expose them to a variety of interests and activities in order for them to find their own passions and flourish at what they have both an aptitude for and an interest in."

One Toronto mom, Helena van Nooten, says one of the best things she ever did was have her 12-year-old daughter, Anna, join the Girls Rule Book Club when she was seven. "For a book-loving kid who doesn’t like too much structure or pressure, but does love having fun with a group of friends, a book club is an excellent thing," Helena says. "Anna has become much more tactful and responsive to cues from others. The club has been a safe, accepting group that has given her the time she needed to pick up social skills and graces."

Does your child love rocking out but dislike music theory? Let her form her own "school of rock" with her buddies. They can work on their music (while practising their instruments, theory and math) when you let them jam in your basement. Doing things in a group will teach cooperation, respect and listening skills, and it will boost self-image. "The more you add to their self esteem in all they do, the more it will flourish," says Ebenstiner.

5. Use humour
Everyone knows that parents are supposed to think their kids are the best – smarter, funnier, cuter, sweeter, more helpful and more polite than every other kid. (Mine are, of course.) But if you’re constantly telling the apple of your eye that he’s the best thing since sliced bread, Junior could end up discounting your praise altogether.

Jen Banks, a mom in Annapolis Valley, N.S., remembers trying something different when her son Ben (who is starting Grade 2) was stressed out about appearing in a school concert this past spring. The night before the show, Jen found him awake in his room, fretting. She tried to snuggle him and asked if he wanted to talk, but he didn’t. So, instead of telling him how great he was going to be in the show, Jen reached into his sock drawer without him noticing, pulled a sock over her hand and let the sock tell Ben how wonderful he is.

"He immediately began laughing; his mood changed instantly." He got a kick out of the makeshift puppet telling him how awesome he is, and how he was going to rock his concert, says Jen. "Once I had him laughing, he was able to open up, and it was easier for him to talk about what was making him nervous."

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This story was originally titled "Confident Kids" in the September 2012 issue.

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5 ways to inspire confidence in your kids

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