My post-pandemic back-to-school guide: Building your child’s confidence

My 11-year-old Meagan being trained by coach Paolo Rivero of Athlete’s Den at her basketball stage.

I REALIZED our family discovered many challenges during the pandemic, like prolonged distance learning and the absence of social support. But we also discovered many good things. Last week I shared what I learned about the importance and effective methods of family communication. We tried a lot of them during the pandemic.

This week, I want to share my learnings on how important a strong self-image is to kids today. I feel this is the most volatile, yet the most important. I have often been asked by parents how they can protect their children from bullying. I would share the story of building the 21st century skill of confidence early on.  I love engaging my children in “self-building” activities, which includes “content” or subject learning like math, enrichment activities, like sports and play. I never aimed for my kids to be at the top of their class. I see the importance of academics as a way for our kids to experience the result of their effort.

So, my goal instead is to make learning, not studying, fun and meaningful for them.  Sports is also a great self-image booster.

Meagan started with basketball as her sport of choice. She built great confidence as she put in extra work on top of varsity practices with Coach Paolo Rivero. Her coach posted on Instagram that “…she is one of the most #Hardworking athlete I’ve ever trained,” when Meagan was 11.

“Play” is a big part in how I help my children build their confidence. Marcus did a lot of Lego sets when he was nine. During the pandemic, our family did a lot of puzzles together. As children see their own capabilities developing through these activities, I believe they can literally and figuratively step in school with a stronger sense of self.  They can also see beyond the pressure of body image, knowing they have more meaningful things going for them.  

As kids are about to go back to in-person school or hybrid learning, I believe we need to prepare them to face the post-pandemic school environment, especially with regard to their peers. Below are three great learnings and tips I learned from the book A Mind of Their Own: Building Your Child’s Emotional Wellbeing in a Post-Pandemic World by Katherine Hill:

1. “It’s okay to be ordinary.” According to the book, some of the pressures on young people to be extraordinary come from the fact that culture has framed an ordinary life as dull and unfulfilling. It challenges us that as parents, we have the opportunity to step in and change that narrative. It advises that we can help our children to recognize that ordinary life is not about settling for boring second-best; it is about embracing reality and making the most out of every opportunity and becoming the best they can be. It provides tips like giving specific praise to specific actions instead of giving a general comment; or using birthdays to celebrate “them” and not what they have done or giving them something to work towards. I like how the book encourages to praise not just success or achievement but also good qualities like kindness.

2. “You can’t do it yet.” I like the reference to the research of psychologist Carol Dweck which has shown that “how our children approach to learning has a direct impact on what they are able to achieve and can therefore affect their confidence and mental well-being.” I was reaffirmed that adopting her “growth mindset” approach all these years allowed my kids to “propel them into learning and growth.” This mindset allows children to see that success is a result of their effort and perseverance, and the talents they are given are just a “springboard to endless possibilities of growth.”

According to Dweck, children with a fixed mindset believe that our ability is predetermined, that everyone is born with a fixed amount of talent that cannot be changed. She explains that this can give way to the mindset that if you’re rubbish at something, nothing you do can change that, or that if you are good at something, success is guaranteed. Thus, those with a fixed mindset view every challenge as an opportunity to show off their strengths.

3. “It’s OK to feel.” I like this portion because it guides me on how to help my child manage failure. This is not easy because our natural parental instincts is to protect our children. I have learned through the years with my 16- and 12-year-olds that the first step toward this is for parents to disassociate themselves from their child’s success or failure. My kids never started out as honor students. When they started in the big school, I worked with them on their learning process. When they receive their grades, I asked them how they felt about it. I would set goal-setting sessions before the start of the school year and ask them what they wanted to aim for in the coming school year. It can be as simple as better handwriting, or as ambitious as getting multiple subject awards.

Next week, I will share how I augment academic work with play, and how this has developed my children’s confidence.


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