Of course, this is easier said than done. Because we want them to succeed, we tend to control their actions or make decisions on their behalf. Partly because we don’t want our children to end up making the same mistakes we did, it’s hard for us to let go of our own expectations of them.
By steering clear of gender stereotyping, you are sending your child the message that both genders are equally capable and worthy of respect.
#1. Avoid gender stereotyping
“Avoid [using] the phrase ‘As girls/boys, we do not do that, and do not stop your child from doing something because it appears inconsistent with their gender,” advises Dr Sanveen Kang, principal clinical psychologist at Psych Connect (a child & adolescent specialist psychology clinic.
So, let your sporty daughter play soccer with the boys, or support your son if he wants to attend ballet lessons. Always highlight your child’s accomplishments, strengths and abilities, regardless of gender.
#2. Listen to what your child says
“Paying attention to what your child says communicates that you trust them and value their opinions,” notes Dr Kang, principal clinical psychologist at Psych Connect (a child & adolescent specialist psychology clinic).
So, even on days that are hectic for you, always make time to talk to your child about what’s going on in their lives. And when they open up about their problems, resist the urge to immediately offer advice or solve things for them. Rather, let them know that you empathise with them and can relate to their hurt, fear or disappointment.
A good way to do this is to validate their emotions. When they tell you they are upset at not doing well for a difficult test, tell them, “I know it must be disappointing for you, because you studied really hard. I understand how it feels to work hard but not get the results you wanted.”
#3. Share your opinions rather than enforce them
If you want your child to grow up with a strong sense of self-belief, don’t force your own point of view on them. Rather, aim to share your opinions and angle them as alternative ways to solve a dilemma.
For example, say, “I really appreciate your sharing. As you were talking, I was thinking about what I might have done in the same situation.” Then, pick maybe two ways you would have approached the situation (too many options may be overwhelming), and ask them for their thoughts.
“If your child has made a poor choice, ask them what they think about trying one of your suggested alternatives in future,” Dr Kang suggests. “Do also talk about when they might want to implement the new strategy and how they can remind themselves to do so.”
#4. Encourage your child to make their own choices
“Let your children make some of their own decisions from as young as possible, no matter how small the choice may feel to you,” Dr Kang advises.
This can be something as simple as letting them choose which T-shirt to wear, or which ice-cream flavour to have for dessert. Giving them a say in things that affect their daily lives shows them that you trust them to make decisions for themselves.
When you let your child make decisions, do acknowledge that there are many ways to approach each situation and some choices might be better than others, Dr Kang points out. Help your child out if they appear to need suggestions, considering the pros and cons of each option. Also, praise them for their effort and courage to try new things for making good choices.
“The underlying message parents need to convey is that it is important to try... Thus, encourage them to take risks and see how things pan out.”
#5. Have a conversation about their choices
Another strategy is to actively engage them in talking about their choices, Dr Kang notes.
One way is to tell them, “I have been thinking about your decisions and realised that there were so many ways someone could have worked through that. I am really proud of you and curious about how you worked through it. Let's chat about what helped you make the choices you did, because it sounds like it was really tricky and you put lots of thought into it.”
At this point, you can discuss the what, when and how of their decision-making process ― though children find it trickier to navigate the why questions. “In my experience, I find that children seem to associate why questions with a poorer choice and negative outcome,” Dr Kang notes.
Therefore, avoid phrasing questions in such a way that appears judgmental. Instead, tell them that you are interested to learn the motivations behind their choices, and that your ultimate goal is to empower them to make good decisions on their own.
#6. Allow your child to take risks and follow their interests
It can be nerve-wracking to watch your little one take risks, but making risky choices arising from something they are interested in is part and parcel of becoming a confident individual. Dr Kang says, “Following their own interests also helps kids recognise their uniqueness.”
“The underlying message parents need to convey is that it is important to try ― the outcome is relative to one's choices. Thus, encourage them to take risks and see how things pan out,” she adds.
If the outcome was successful, praise and compliment them. If not, praise them for their effort, and work with them on other options or to brainstorm strategies for improvement. Also remind them that failure is a perfectly normal and acceptable aspect of trying new things.
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