There’s been a lot written about confidence as a key ingredient for success. I would definitely say there’s a positive relationship. My husband and I have always showered our children with affirmation. When we were expecting our first child, I regularly rubbed my belly and talked to our unborn baby. My mantra was, “You are going to be so smart.” With our second, I (not my husband) wanted to know the sex and was ecstatic to learn we were having a girl. In the search for names we settled on one of Ethiopian origin meaning Beautiful Flower. You see, we began slathering confidence-building language on our children even before they were born. And the confidence-building continued throughout their childhood and into the present. For years I thought my husband was borrowing Hakeem Olajuwon’s moniker when he called our son “Dream”. One day I said something about it and he corrected me saying, “No. I call him Dream because he’s a dream child. I couldn’t have dreamt him up.” Wow, right! We love our children and believe they are God’s greatest gift; therefore, our words and actions reflect that truth.
Positive self-worth (i.e., high self-confidence, high self-esteem) is called a protective factor in children. It mitigates the chances of poor outcomes when challenges and obstacles are an affront to their sense of self. This is extremely important for African American children because we live in a world that tells them they are less than. So when these ubiquitous messages begin to permeate a child’s world, a positive sense of self-worth can ameliorate or altogether negate the subliminal effects. For example, if you watch the news you know it’s rife with reports depicting African Americans in a negative light. If you get your news that way, your child is seeing and hearing negative reports of people who look like him. Over time, all the unsavory depictions, statistics, etc. can have a negative impact on how our children see themselves, their capabilities, and their trajectory. As a rule, my husband and I never had the news on while we were raising our children and we still don’t get our information that way. Instead, we rely on written sources (newspapers, online news) which allow us to somewhat regulate and choose what comes into our home and psyche.
The PARENTS’ JOB – make sure your child knows they are loved and affirm them!
We revel in our children’s attributes – intellect, beauty (outward and inward), kindness, thoughtfulness, athletic prowess, and artistic ability. We really are in awe of them and as such, constantly tell them how great they are. I am certain their belief in their greatness, which came at an early age (from constantly hearing it), is a major factor in their success. When our son was three we went to a colleague’s housewarming. We played a game where we had to take tissue off a toilet paper roll without any instructions as to why. It turned out that for every piece of tissue taken we had to say something about ourselves. Our 3 year-old played the game, as did everyone else. When it was his turn he asserted, “I am smart. I am handsome” so on for every piece of tissue. Everyone’s mouth was agape, except mine. They asked how he could express such confidence at a young age. He was the only person in the room whose descriptors were entirely self-affirming. I have a similar story about our daughter. One day, when she was in fifth grade we were in the car and something she said prompted me to caution her about personal attributes. As we came to a stoplight my words were something like, “No matter how smart, talented, pretty we are, there will always be someone smarter, more talented, and prettier, and that’s okay. It doesn’t take anything away from us” – something like that. I will never forget her response. We were at 18th and Park Road going north on 18th. When I finished speaking, she turned her head, looked me squarely in the eye and tersely replied, “I haven’t met that person yet.” I was at a loss for words and thought. I couldn’t do or say anything. I just waited for the light to turn green, proceeded to drive, and we moved on to another topic. It is that level of confidence that has garnered her a reputation as someone who will question right and wrong and standup for others and to others even when her peers can’t or won’t. And the same is true for my son. Both children are considered leaders by their peers. Their firm belief in self has a lot do with that.
Until next month, I leave you with my favorite quote, Our Deepest Fear, from A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Next month we’ll consider the Cultural Self.