One day, my daughter Rebecca’s fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Mekka, declared that Rebecca was self-motivated. I knew Rebecca always tried to do her best but was her self-motivation inherent or did she learn it from me? This got me thinking about other character traits. We’re born with some, but can be taught others. For instance, you can teach your kids creativity, empathy and self-confidence. Here’s how to instill these desirable virtues in your kids.
Using imagination is a skill anyone can develop.
“Creativity is born in a child’s fantasy life,” says artist Lynn Newman. “This happens when a child’s just playing or doing nothing and drawing on his own inner resources.”
Moms and dads can take it further. Parents tell their kids what to do most of the time, but kids need to be left alone in order for their creative juices to flow. “It’s important to let kids roam and explore, even if they’re just daydreaming on their bed,” Newman says.
So when your kids complain of boredom, instead of telling them what to do, let them figure it out for themselves.
“Let kids be uncomfortable in that void and figure out how to fill it themselves,” Newman says. You can ask, “What’s the easiest thing you can do right now?” Or, “So what if you’re bored? Now what?” Whatever your kids come up with, let it be and resist the urge to judge it.
Creating for the Joy of It
“Kids want to create for the thrill of inventing, not for the product,” Newman says. So encourage their inventions and guard against judgements. If your child decides to paint, don’t say, “that’s a good thing to do,” or declare that the finished painting is pretty. Keep your comments neutral. Judgment calls — good or bad — condition kids to seek validation, which squashes creativity. Say, “That’s interesting,” or just be present. The essence of creativity is being comfortable with the uncomfortable and observing what springs from it.
“Empathy — being able to stand in someone else’s shoes and understand how it feels to be there — can be taught to children,” says psychiatrist Gail Saltz. Saltz is the creator of the Podcast, “The Power of Different.”
“Empathy gives you the objectivity to step out of a situation, look at it, then step back in and make better decisions for yourself,” Saltz says. “Empathy is about becoming an understanding bystander.”
So, for example, if your child complains that a friend is suddenly not being nice, for example, use empathy. Ask her to consider what the other child may be going through before deciding that the child is just mean.
Model empathetic behavior yourself and talk about it. For example, if you ask a new mom out for coffee, let your kids know that you thought she might like a new friend. Go further by discussing your kids’ lives with open-ended questions. Teaching empathy starts by engaging your kids in conversations about issues and drawing them out, Saltz says.
Today’s kids are suffering from a confidence crisis, says Heather Hans, a licensed clinical social worker and author of The Heart of Self-Love: How to Radiate with Confidence ($16.95; AuthorHouse). “They’re growing up with Facebook, Instagram and Snap Chat, where everything is about image,” says Hans. “They worry about what other people think of them, and are exhausted by increased academic demands and competition.”
A lack of confidence can hold anyone back from reaching their potential. Aim to create a culture of confidence within your family.
Start with You
There are a lot of ways to demonstrate confidence, even if you have to pretend to be at first.
For instance, get into the habit of accepting compliments instead of dismissing them. When your child overhears you accept a compliment, you send a message that you’re worthy of the praise.
“We teach people how to treat us by how we treat ourselves,” Hans says. It’s also helpful to acknowledge when you’re angry, hungry or tired, as in, “I’m exhausted so I’m going to take a break instead of trying to plow through this project.”
Other ways of modeling confidence include not beating yourself up for mistakes you make, but rather, learning from them. Setting achievable goals is helpful in building self confidence, also. When you achieve a goal you feel freat. Show your kids that it’s important to take care of yourself too, and they will begin to take care of themselves.
“If we don’t take care of our basic human needs, it can take longer to get things done and feel like doomsday, which can wear on self-esteem,” Hans says.
Finally, take healthy risks. “Do something that will help you grow and encourage your kids to do the same,” says Hans. If you’re terrified of public speaking, for example, volunteer to give a presentation at work and tell your kids about it. “There’s no better way for us to gain confidence than getting out of our comfort zone,” Hans says.