10 Ways to Empower Kids
Neisha’s story is so powerful and alarming, in that it’s far more common than many of us realize or admit. In fact, abuse takes so many different forms and affects so many different people that it’s easy to feel helpless in the face of this dangerous, rampant cycle. As I sit here now, I can easily think of a long list of people I love who are survivors of abuse. All three of my parents were abused as children. But, instead of letting the helpless feeling take over, I have to think, what can I do to help?
What can we do? One thing we can do is help empower the children in our lives. Neisha, Jenifer, and I all are mothers, with two kids each. I also was a teacher before starting my career in web design/ development & communication coaching. I am currently coaching my daughter’s Girls on the Run team. All of these moments are opportunities to practice teaching empowerment. Every day brings new challenges, and believe me, I mess up all the time, but here are some of the tools I try to employ when interacting with the kids in my life.
10 Ways to Empower the Kids in our Lives:
Celebrate your children for exactly who they are – their unique qualities, their quirks, all of it!
- Each child is unique and has special qualities. Each child has struggles, too. When your child knows that she is awesome exactly as she is, even with her mistakes and struggles, no one can take that away from her.
- Respect your kids for their character, rather than their achievements.
- Avoid using comparisons and competitions to define value. We don’t want our children to equate their self-worth only with their achievements, but rather to love themselves for their unique character.
- When dealing with inherently competitive experiences, be intentional:
- Winning a competition can be celebrated in a way that isn’t just about the fact that they won: by praising the actions it took to get there [hard work, preparation, team work, quick-thinking, perseverance, endurance, etc.].
- This also helps them frame their failures in a positive way in their minds [I didn’t make the debate team, but I did work hard to prepare for the audition, and learned some new strategies for research in the process. Next time, I’ll practice speaking more loudly and making more eye contact with my audience].
Give your kids time to explore and discover their curiosities and passions.
If your kid likes to draw, make sure he has down time to draw.
If she loves building, let her play and build. Give her access to all kinds of materials to explore this (not just every Lego set on the planet, but also sticks, cardboard, glue, PVC pipe, construction paper, play dough & toothpicks, cereal boxes, tin cans – you name it; many everyday household items make great building materials!).
If your child loves music, let him explore that.
Everything your child does does not have to be resume material, an avenue to their ultimate career, or even remotely structured.
Let your kids be kids: play and find their passions naturally.
They will gain so much confidence by being given space to dream their own dreams and time to find out what they can do – without the constraints that many extra-curricular activities include. [Please note, I am not discouraging all extra-curriculars, just urging selectivity and balance].
Help them gain self esteem through experience.
- Self esteem comes from more than just words; it comes from experience.
- While it’s important to demonstrate our love for our children, just telling them constantly how much we love them or speaking constant praise can actually make them uneasy.
- If the only thing your children ever hear from you is how amazing they are, believe it or not, when they aren’t feeling so amazing about a choice they are facing, they may not feel secure in admitting that to themselves or to you.
- Balance the praise with experiences, opportunities to let your kid build character and to demonstrate that you believe in her good sense, in her abilities.
- For all ages, this means giving your kids a chance to do things for themselves:
- Let your toddler walk/ climb the stairs, even if it takes longer than carrying him.
- Let your school-aged kid pack his own lunch, pick out her own clothes (even when they’re not what you would choose).
- Try not to fix every little thing that goes wrong for your child. If a school-aged child forgets something at school that she needs for her homework, instead of rushing back to school to get it for her, let her think about ways to solve the problem differently or even let her handle the consequence that comes.
- That opportunity to make a mistake and learn from it is what allows our children to understand their own value.
- If they see their parent constantly fixing things for them, they learn that their parents do not trust them to be responsible and they also learn that they don’t need to be responsible for themselves.
- In addition, when our children are allowed to make a mistake and the world does not come to an end, they gain resilience. They learn problem-solving. They learn that life isn’t perfect, but it is really interesting, with lots of room to grow.
Teach them to understand their right to safety, and help them prepare for tricky situations.
- Don’t let fear rule the lives of you and your children.
- Talk about situations and ways in which your children might find themselves feeing unsafe.
- It’s a hard topic, and it should be handled in a positive way.
- If they have an opportunity to role play, your kids will feel more empowered to handle the tricky situations that sometimes come up in life.
- These conversations can include, but are not limited to:
- bullying and pressure among peers,
- technology/ internet safety (including cyber bullying),
- inappropriate touching, and
- “tricky people,” (rather than stranger danger – this helps your kids understand better how to seek help when encountering unsafe strangers, rather than fearing all strangers).
- Decide on your family’s rules around using technology, and enforce them.
- Talk about appropriate and inappropriate touching, and help them understand what to do if they feel like they are about to be or have been violated in some way.
- Teach them to trust their own intuitions, and strategies to remove themselves from situations that feel unsafe.
- Help your children identify the people who love and support them no matter what [try to be one of those people] — so they know who they can come to if they need help with a problem.
- Get help from experts when you need extra support.
Teach them to choose with purpose and intention.
- Make it clear that life is all about choices, and that we make choices all the time, in everything we do.
- Give your child opportunities to make her own choice (be sure the choices you offer her are acceptable to you).
- Praise positive choices your child makes.
- Hold your children accountable for their choices.
- Find positive ways to guide children to make better choices when they are struggling.
- Putting the emphasis on choice rather than person gives our children room to grow.
- If our children feel shamed for every mistake they make, they start to feel shame about who they are.
- If they know that they have the power to choose in their own lives, they understand their impact – in small moments as well as in big ways.
- This helps them feel supported, rather than just thinking they are “good” or “bad” people.
- It helps kids also know that we are all making choices all the time, and none of us are perfect.
- There are positive choices that we/ they are already good at making, but
- We always have choices that we’re working on doing better.
Teach your children [and yourself] to recognize problems as opportunities.
- Problems can sometimes feel overwhelming or inconvenient, but…
- A problem is something that can be examined, explored, and often solved.
- When a child is having a problem, it’s an opportunity for her to stop and think about what she can do to solve it.
- Give her room/ time/ space to work on solving her own problem, but be available for support. [Don’t rush in with the answer; let her work on it, with you in the background].
- It can be an opportunity for her to learn something new about herself and others, or about the topic that’s causing her to struggle.
- It can also be an opportunity to have a really great conversation with you or some other role model in your child’s life.
- We bond over shared struggles, so look upon troubleshooting problems [together – not you giving all the answers] as a chance to connect with your kids and to grow together.
- Also, while you might get sick of hearing your children squabble with one another, when your children have sibling problems, it is an opportunity for them to work on their social/ emotional/ problem-solving skills.
- By extension, problems at school are an opportunity for you, your child, your child’s teachers, and sometimes your child’s school administrators, to all work together towards a shared goal or solution. Knowing he has a team of people who support him, even when he struggles, is a beautiful gift to give a child.
Model the behavior / habit/ choices that you expect from your children.
- This includes all things that fit into your life:
- the types of people you choose to spend time with,
- the habits that help make you strong and healthy – whatever those may be.
- the way you treat yourself, your kids, and others.
- your consistency and follow-through.
- When your children see you modeling a healthy lifestyle and strong self-esteem, they learn how to choose friends/ stay healthy/ set boundaries, etc.
- This also includes the words you use about yourself. Keep your own self-deprecating talk/tendencies to a minimum.
- You are modeling self worth to your kids.
- None of us are perfect. We all have things we’re working on.
- It’s great to share what you’re working on with your kids, and talk about that.
Use positive discipline to reinforce positive behavior.
- There is no such thing as a perfect parent. None of us are perfect, so don’t beat yourself up if this isn’t your default 100% of the time. Go for a decent average, when you look at an entire day or week.
- If you need help understanding HOW to do this, there are lots of resources.
- One easy one to access on-line is Dr. Katharine Kersey’s 101’s of Positive Discipline.
- Start with the Top 10, then expand from there.
- Or just pick one to try each day or week, and add another when you feel like you’re comfortable with that one.
Set clear boundaries.
- While giving your children choices does help them understand that they have power, some things are non-negotiable. [Obviously, they can choose to run into the street without looking both ways, but we don’t want them to get hit by a car; therefore, running into the street is NOT permitted. Ever. Period.].
- Be clear with your children when something is NOT negotiable.
- Setting clear boundaries allows them to understand the importance of their own boundaries and their right to say no to things that are not healthy for them.
- Children also feel anxious if they get the feeling that they are calling all the shots. Not everything should be up to your kids to choose. Let them know that you are secure enough to be their parent, even if they don’t like your answer some of the time.
- We don’t need to be perfect. We just need to be real/ honest.
- Give yourself room to make mistakes, too [we all have “forgotten brass moments”].
- Talk to your kids about that.
- Apologize to the ones you love when you’ve made hurtful choices, forgive yourself, and move on.
- Take breaks.
- Be gentle with yourself.
- Ask for help when you need it.
- If you are struggling with shame [all of us are sometimes] or if you have unresolved self-esteem issues of your own, seek support from your Brazen BFF’s, your family, and professional resources.
- Self love is an on-going process… take it one step at a time.
- Take yourself out on dates, be your own best friend, and truly show yourself love not just through ticking boxes on your own achievements or reaching your own house goals/ health care goals/ career goals, etc., but by truly giving yourself the gift of self care.
- No matter what your Mama may have taught you about selflessness, the more love you have for yourself, the more love you have to share with others.
In this TED talk, domestic abuse survivor Leslie Morgan Steiner explores the topic of why don’t domestic violence victims leave?
In Jackson Katz’s TED talk, he addresses how violence against women is a men’s issue.
In Tony Porter’s TED talk, he puts forth a call to men.
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