Affirmation & The Gift Of Confidence

"Little girl, don't be afraid to shine..."
"Little girl, don't be afraid to shine..."

We're in that mid-holiday period between Christmas and New Years, and though it's been crazy busy and overwhelming (enjoying the process of decorating our new home for the season, hosting 2 big dinners, late - and rushed - gift shopping, and celebrating Little Magician's first Christmas), I'm blessed that I still have lots of calorie-rich food to eat and family coming through my doors.

This year I've been less focused on tangible gifts (new baby and new house just six months ago? Listen.) but I've really been thinking about the intangibles that people can benefit from. There was a moment during this holiday season that has stuck with me since I saw it, and as I shopped for LM and the other children in my family, it kept popping up in my mind.

A couple of weeks ago, LM and I attended the holiday concert at the school/daycare my husband works at. For just over an hour, we sat with other proud parents and watched as class after class performed their little holiday hearts out. It was awesome that nearly every child had a turn at a dance or song solo - you could literally see them bloom as they each earned genuine cheers and applause, and the power of those moments was not lost on me. Among the best gifts a child can receive are affirmation and confidence, and these kids were getting them in spades.

Research is rife with studies reporting on the confidence issues among children and adolescents, and as I often say when encountering adults who clearly suffered in their youth, "Low self-esteem is an epidemic." It made me think about Little Magician and the ways in which I hope to build and maintain her self-confidence and affirm her in ways that enrich her sense of self.

As a child, I was extremely self-conscious and shy, and when I think back, I have no clue why. My imagination was overactive. I was creative. I was smart. When I started attending  an elementary school for gifted and artistic children, the doors opened to so many opportunities to use that imagination, creativity, and intelligence - but I shied away from almost anything that put me in the limelight. I can still remember the ache of wanting to audition for that dance production but holding back...or feeling mad at myself that I was nauseous during mandatory vocal solos even though I knew I could sing the passage...or prefacing my presentations with reasons why they could have been better even though I knew I did the best I could. I held myself back from a lot and let nerves take over often, and I'm not sure why. All I know is I missed out on a lot of fun and personal growth by doing what I did, and I don't wish that on any other child.

How do we affirm and instill confidence in our children? I'm only 6 months into this mothering game so I'm still trying to figure it out, but I have some thoughts based on my own experiences:

I plan to show interest in the things she's passionate about, and ask questions to learn about those passions that may not be something I'm in to. I plan to give her praise and applaud her successes without fear of "spoiling" her. I plan to allow her to make mistakes, encouraging her to grow and learn from them and see that she can survive them. I plan to help her to have pride in the things that make her unique, and not to fear or be ashamed of the things that make her different.

It's definitely not lost on me that external factors can be a mighty opponent in the childhood confidence game. Also, knowing that parents are human and thus are not infallible beings, I can't promise that I'll be perfect at this. What I can promise is that I'll do my best to steer her away from the pitfalls I experienced, that robbed me of wonderful opportunities and that made me feel less than when I had more to offer the world than I realized.

After the holiday concert, I watched as kids ran towards their parents' outstretched arms and heard how amazing they were. One little girl looked like she was about to burst with pride after her 'Frosty The Snowman' solo, and exclaimed "Daddy, I feel like I can do anything!" If she could feel invincible after singing a verse of a Christmas carol, I thought, imagine what she'll try to accomplish next?  I later tweeted, "I wish parents could bottle up the confidence these kids had today and give them a dose whenever needed" and I still mean that. I may not be able to afford the next hot toy for LM or one of the other babies in my life, but I'll work my hardest to keep giving them the gift of confidence.