Elements of a Confident Kid… Sincerity
– honesty of mind : freedom from hypocrisy1
Who “To be or not to be? That is the question.” Though Shakespeare questioned the choice of existence, the question of our authenticity may be just as important and fundamental. Psychologists have made numerous distinctions over the years attempting to define our sense of self. One scholar divided it into our impulsive and institutional selves, another wrote about the true and false selves and a third wrote about the individual and social selves. We come to understand our feelings, thoughts and actions through a variety of lenses that can be influenced by who we are and who others expect us to be. Though there is no one theory or understanding of our authentic sense of self, most scholars agree that “development of a sense of self is shaped by parental influence and socialization processes.”2 Developmental psychologists have determined that there is a common rising practice of making choices based upon social awareness, beginning in the seventh grade or between the ages of 12-14 years.3 And as children grow older, making consistent choices that honor their sincere selves takes a great amount of courage.
So if parents are highly influential in helping children come to understand themselves, then how do we prepare children to become aware of their authentic selves and make decisions that stay true it? Before the awakening awareness of multiple selves in the preteen and teen years, are there ways we can pave the way for authenticity? And when children reach the teen years when they are highly influenced by outside social forces, how can we influence their sense of sincerity?
All individuals – and certainly our children – long for belonging but also autonomy. Interestingly, anchoring to our sincere selves promotes both. Because it takes courage to be who we know we are, there is a sense of individual strength that comes from being and making decisions that align with our true selves. In addition when we become vulnerable exposing who we are to others, this opens the door to intimacy and deeper connections in our relationships. Though at times, when peer pressure is potent, it can be the hardest thing in the world to let down our friends because whatever they are asking is not right for us. Confident kids, however, are prepared to make those tough choices. Here are some ideas on how we can, as parents, prepare them.
Model honesty. Modeling honesty can mean sharing aloud what you might be thinking when you are saying how you feel. Sharing the opposite of the truth and saying what the truth for you is shows your child the contrast and makes apparent your own internal debate. For example, “I want to say that I feel just fine in response to your ‘How are you?,’ but the truth is I am upset about a conversation I had at work and I can’t seem to get it off my mind.”
Promote honesty. Children necessarily test the limits with their parents. One of the ways they do this is with dishonesty. They may think, “Will she catch me? How bad will it be if I get my way, steal another piece of candy and tell her I didn’t?” Focus on the logical consequences of dishonesty. If your child’s lies about the extra piece of candy, talk about and better yet, show the logical consequences to her. Some may include, that in the future, you may have a difficult time trusting what she is saying. She may begin to feel sick because she has had too much candy. Her health can be compromised if she continues to have too much candy. I love the cautionary tale, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”4 because it’s such an important lesson. I’ve written an updated version to make it more relevant for kids today. Check out “The Boy Who Cried Emergency!” below and tell the tale in your household.
Ask questions before jumping to responses or decisions for action. We, as parents, are often in a position where we have to direct our children’s actions. This can become our default if we are not careful. Look for chances to ask questions before stepping in with directives. Good questions promote thinking and help children internalize the evaluative process of responsible decision making – thinking through the action to consequence sequence before they act. Examples might be, “How do you feel about making that decision?,” “What does your heart or inner voice tell you?” or maybe, “What are some options if the girl you sit next to in class is mean to you today?”
Encourage quiet reflection before big decision making. Whether it’s deciding to play a new sport or it’s taking on a new boyfriend, encourage your child to get quiet and reflect. Decisions that are made quickly may not be aligned with one’s true self. So take a pause. Reflect. Provide key questions. Encourage writing on thoughts and feelings. Promote self-reflection so that your child has the practice for the major decisions in life to come.
Discuss characters in stories. Courage to be true to self is a universal theme that is used in literature time and again. Find these heroes, particularly those that are flawed and human. Point out their faults and frailties and then learn together how they triumph. Be sure to discuss how the conquering hero has to make choices that do not align with what others want.
Promote positive attention-getting. There is a child in any circle of friends who always has a problem he needs an adult to solve. “I’m hungry.” “He took my ball.” and “I’m too cold” are complaints you might hear when he attempts to get you involved. Clearly he needs more adult attention. He has learned to be a squeaky wheel in order to fill that need. And it works. It escalates too because if he doesn’t eventually get the attention he needs, he will yell, hit or cry. If this sounds at all familiar, be certain you are teaching your child to ask for attention when they need it in appropriate ways, “Mom, I need some time with you.” Reinforce positive attention-getting behaviors. “I notice you wanted to show me a picture in your book. I love it when you involve me in what you are reading.” And if you notice an increase in attention-getting misbehaviors, then increase your positive attention in well-behaved moments. Find chances to sit down, cuddle and read together or let your child lead you through a play scenario.
Discuss temptations and social expectations with tweens and teens. Look for chances to enter conversations about decisions to go with the crowd and reasons to make different choices. Teens are hungry for these discussions as they are trying to find their place and define their sense of boundaries. Their self and social identity are on top of their own developmental list of priorities. Find books, movies or highlight local or school news stories that offer rich opportunities for discussion. Introduce the controversy, ask good questions and allow your child to formulate his or her own ideas and opinions. If you hear she has an opinion that may mimic her friend’s opinions, ask what other options there might be. Keep asking, “But what seems true to you?”
The Boy Who Cried “Emergency!”
Adapted for my son, from “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” Aesop’s Fables
*Insert your own relevant details and tell the tale to your child!
There was a young boy who lived in a small house in Columbus, Ohio. He loved to play hide and seek in his yard with his neighborhood friends. One day when his friends were not around, he felt bored. “I know,” he thought. “I will run to my Mom and pretend there’s an emergency and bring her running.” “I will have a good laugh when she finds out there is no real emergency.”
So he invented an emergency. He decided to pretend there was a hurt cat behind the garage that desperately needed help. He ran inside to find his Mom. “Mom, Mom!” he shouted. “It’s an emergency!”
Mom dropped her laundry and raced through the house at the sound of his urging and listened with intensity as her son said there was an injured cat who needed help. Mom grabbed a few towels and some food and walked to the back of the garage with caution not knowing what she might find there. Her son began to giggle as he pointed at her, “Gotcha!” he said. Mom was not happy. She had dropped her clean laundry on the dirty floor and now had to clean it all over again. But more importantly, she was disappointed that her son mislead her. “Don’t do it again.” she said.
But the son thought the whole experience was exciting. He had created a big rush of emotion and gotten his Mom involved with her full attention on him. Because she urged him not to do it again, he ignored the idea that reentered his head a few times in the coming weeks. But one particularly boring summer day when no friends were to be found, he couldn’t resist. He planned his new emergency.
This time there would be a big crash in the garage. A piece of wood would fall from the rafters and crash down breaking his new, expensive bike. He ran into the house yelling, “Mom! Mom!” “Emergency!” Mom, this time doing dishes, abandoned her work to respond to her son. “It’s the garage roof. It’s falling in and it’s broken my brand new bike!” Mom ran to the garage with her son not far behind. She held him back from going in fearing falling objects. She cautiously peered in to see her garage in perfect condition. “What?” she turned to say. “Gotcha!” smiled her son. Mom was furious. She couldn’t believe her son had cried “Emergency!” again. Clearly he had not learned the lesson. She sat him down and talked to him about the importance of being sincere and honest.
So did the son truly learn the lesson? Late that summer, the son was playing in the fenced-in backyard with his beloved dog. He got involved in a game of trucks on the dirt mound and didn’t notice the dog for a time. He looked up and the dog was gone. He then noticed that the gate was ajar. He ran to the front yard but couldn’t see the dog anywhere. He tore into the house. “Mom! Mom!” “It’s an emergency!” Mom was on the phone with his grandma. “I’m talking on the phone. Your emergency can wait.” Mom said trying not to roll her eyes certain that this was another “Gotcha!” moment. The boy began crying in desperation worrying that his dog might be lost forever or injured. When Mom saw his emotion was genuine, she got off the phone and asked him to explain. They both ran to find his dog. After looking for blocks, they finally found their dog exploring a yard and were relieved to find he was okay. On the walk home, the boy told his Mom, “Now I know I can never call ‘Emergency!’ again in case there ever is a real emergency.” And he never did.
Or watch the Muppets act out their version of Aesop’s Fables’, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”
The Muppets – The Boy Who Cried Wolf (9 minutes in length)
1. Merriam Webster Dictionary. Retrieved on February 17, 2015 at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sincerity
2. Vannini, P., & Franzese, A. (2008). The Authenticity of Self: Conceptualization, Personal Experience and Practice. Sociology Compass, 2/5, 1621-1637, 10.1111/j.
3. Harter, S., Bresnick, S., Bouchey, H.A. and Whitesell, N.R. (1997). The Development of Multiple Role-related Selves During Adolescence. Developmental Psychopathology. Fall;9(4):835-53.
4. Aesop. (2007). The Boy Who Cried Wolf. In D.L. Ashliman (Ed.) (Credited originally to the Greek slave, Aesop between 620 and 560 B.C.