A reader wrote to me this week with a question. It isn't something that I've had to handle with my kids (yet) or that I have any specific expertise on, but I do think it is an important question and know that I have really smart readers. So I asked the person who sent it if I could post it on the blog and she agreed.
Here is her question:
My son is 12. He's got huge self doubt issues and we cannot for the life of us get him to understand that he's valuable, that he matters, that what he thinks is important and worthwhile, that he's capable, that he can trust himself. It's draining the life out of us arguing with him about how great he is. HELP!
This isn't something I've had to deal with as a parent, but it is certainly something that I dealt with as an insecure child. Or, in my case, I don't think that I was necessarily inherently insecure, but people certainly made me feel like I should be. As a child, I think it is incredibly important to have parents who are supportive, but I also know that when your peers are constantly putting you down or making you feel worthless, then you block out the voices from your parents. They're your parents after all. Of course they have to love you and tell you that you're wonderful, even if you're not. Or at least that is how I felt.
But I don't think it is just me. I've talked to other parents who said that their child never really believed in themselves until their strenghts or their worth was validated by someone other than their parents and their teachers. That could be another trusted adult in their life, it could be their peers (especially ones who are a bit older and that they look up to), it could be a leader or a mentor.
I guess my first course of action would be to find out where the voices of self-doubt are coming from. Are other people telling your son that he is worthless? If so, is that something that the school can address? Dealing with bullying in schools is tough, but is something I think we need to be especially vigilant of as our children grow up.
Beyond that, I think I would encourage my child to find activities that they can excel at and will make them feel accomplished. Maybe that is a team sport, but if your child is worried about letting other people down (as you mentioned in an e-mail to me), then maybe starting with an individual sport or other individual pursuit would be a better starting place. Finding a hobby that you enjoy and that makes you feel accomplished is important for people of all ages, I think.
I would also encourage my child to get involved in volunteering. There is evidence that helping others is a huge source of happiness and meaning for people. Seeing the smile on the faces of people you're helping or just knowing that you've made a difference can provide a huge boost. My kids like volunteering at the sorting table at the food bank (this reminds me that we need to set up a time to go again soon), for example. I know other people whose kids help out at homeless shelters or seniors residences.
What about you, dear readers? Do you have any suggestions on how to give this boy a confidence boost?
Image credit: + Anne + on flickr