My full time job used to be recruiting, licensing, and training foster parents in Southern Maine. It was hard work. Many families (parents and children) are struggling. I would love to see a focus on prevention. I’d prefer the cycles of violence, addiction, and poverty be broken with sustained support and education for anyone who needs it. Parenting is hard, joyful, frustrating, rewarding work. All parents want to do a good job—and we all could use support in it. We all do the best we can with the resources and energy available to us.
In the field of social work, there is a lot of attention given to resiliency. “At-risk youth,” in spite of the hardships they endure, can have positive outcomes. Research shows that their resiliency and view of themselves is dramatically improved if they receive two consistent messages from a trusted adult. It doesn’t matter who the adult is—coach, teacher, or foster parent—what matters is the message.
Whether a child has every advantage or faces many challenges, they need to believe these two things. No child can hear them too often. Here they are, in their simplest forms, and in a variety of verbal and nonverbal ways. Also included are a few ways in which you could inadvertently negate these important messages.
Message #1: “YOU MATTER.”
- Other ways to say it: “You are important.” “I care about you.” “Tell me your opinion.” “I love you very much.” “I’m glad you’re part of my family/tribe/life.”
- How to show it: Eye contact and smiles. Hugs. Remember and honor their preferences. Give them the heads-up on transitions and family changes. Validate feelings and listen.
- Try to avoid: Interrupting while your child is talking. Speaking with other adults about them as if they are not there. Ignoring them.
Message #2: “YOU ARE CAPABLE.”
- Other ways to say it: “I believe in you.” “You can do it—even if it’s hard.” “You know how to keep at it.” “You can succeed.” “I trust you.”
- How to show it: Beam them with confidence. Stand back and give space. Let them fail, feel that, and then try again.
- Try to avoid: Equating a child’s developmental phase with their personality or capabilities. Rushing in with advice or comfort. Hovering.
Build confidence and true self-esteem in your child by ensuring they know these two very important messages. Increase resilience in any child by keeping these tips in mind. If heard repeatedly, wholeheartedly, and in many different ways, children will feel the positive impact— and they will be virtually inoculated against hopelessness and despair.
A version of this article was originally published in Parent & Family.