Raising strong children means teaching children to have confidence in themselves and in others, not to be afraid to express their ideas in a respectful and constructive way and to ask themselves in difficult moments of life: “how can I come out of this?”, “what strategies can I use?”. Here are the advice of psychologist Rosa Angela Fabio, author of the book “Positive parents, strong children”.
Sometimes, observing our children, we fear that they are too fragile in a world that seems more and more difficult.
But how do you raise strong children? This is explained by Rosa Angela Fabio, psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Messina and author of the book “Positive parents, strong children” (Erickson).
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What does it mean to be strong?
“Strength is the ability to accept others, who may have mentalities different from ours; it is the ability to resist fear and keep going forward without guarantees of reward; it is the ability to live in love”.
Strong personalities are those who have assertive behavior, that is, they have full confidence in themselves and in others, they know how to assert their rights without denying those of others and they express themselves in a clear and direct way, but not threatening or aggressive.
“This type of personality”, Rosa Angela Fabio explains, “is opposed to two other types: passive and aggressive, both of which have in common a lack of confidence in themselves and in others and an inability to communicate their needs and rights”.
Growing up assertive and strong children means getting them used to wondering in difficult moments of life: “how can I come out of it?”, “what strategies can I use?
1. Cultivating self-esteem
In order to raise a child with self-confidence, it is essential to convey to him the idea that he is valid only for the fact that he exists.
It’s true even if he takes a bad grade, even if he makes a whim and gets yelled at. Unconditional acceptance by the parent is the basis of secure attachment. And it will help him, when he grows up, to face life constructively.
Acceptance obviously does not mean permissiveness, but limits and rules are important. Inconditionality means being in empathy with your child, accepting him or her for what he or she is. Never go out with phrases that strike at being “you’re not good because…”, but only the behavior: “it’s wrong to throw things, you don’t have to do it!”.
It’s also important to have realistic expectations of your children and teach them to reach a goal step by step. To expect too much from a child is counterproductive, it can demotivate him, with negative consequences for self-esteem.
2. Positive reinforcement
Every time a child takes a small step towards his or her goal, he or she is cheered and praised with words of encouragement. These reinforcements help motivate him.
But don’t limit yourself to conditional reinforcements, i.e. those related to specific behaviours, such as: “I’m happy with your good report card”, but often use unconditional reinforcements too: “I’m fine with you”, “how nice to be with you!”.
And if a child is particularly difficult, for example, is hyperactive, take advantage of the brief moments in which he is behaving correctly and intervene immediately to underline how much good he is doing, so as to consolidate and strengthen a positive attitude. Imagine having a magnifying glass that shows only the positive aspects, otherwise the risk is to trigger a vicious circle of reprimands with a consequent increase in problematic behaviour.
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3. Listen to him with empathy
“Authentic listening is an attitude that comes from the heart of the adult and arrives at that of the child where his emotions are contained. Listening presupposes strong emotional availability, benevolence, understanding, emotional closeness”.
The advice is to devote at least 10-15 minutes a day to your child, paying the utmost attention to him/her (maybe the night before bed…). During this listening session you can also ask them to tell you three good things and three bad things that have happened to them during the day.
The three positive things help him to see that even on the worst days there is always something positive; the three bad things help him to understand that even negative emotions can be accepted and that sharing them with parents helps. Reform what he says to you and give a name to his emotions, for example you can say: “I understand you honey, after what happened you felt sad…”.
This empathic listening requires that the parent does not give solutions (they have to learn to find them on their own), nor judgments.
4. Help him overcome difficulties by telling him fairy tales.
A good way to help him solve his problems on his own is through therapeutic fairy tales. That is to say, tell him stories that you have specifically designed to address a specific problem.
Create a protagonist with the physical characteristics of your child so that he or she identifies with him or her. Then invent the character of the friend who immediately solves the problem and tells it to the protagoniosta, highlighting the advantages of having overcome that difficulty. Listening to your friend’s words, the protagonist/child will also be able to reach the goal.
5. The importance of the rules
The rules give security and promote the process of adaptation to social and relational life. Acquiring rules means becoming constructive people and developing a feeling of security. “They are the tracks into which to channel energies: without them the train can go anywhere and derail”.
In order to give rules effectively, it is important first of all to express them in a positive way: instead of saying: “don’t be the usual naughty boy with your grandmother!”, better: “when your grandmother arrives, help her sit down and offer her some cookies”.
Express them sweetly but femously, clearly and without taking too long: “I’m sure you’ll tidy up your room today: start with the basket of dolls”. If you do it right away, highlight it with positive praise.
Don’t exaggerate in the number: set 4/5 basic rules, communicate them to the family. You can also play the contract game: if the child respects them, he will get an award in return (a snack at the bar… an extra hour of play on the playground…).
6. Teach in stages
As explained in the first point, it is important not to have unrealistic expectations of children so as not to create unnecessary frustrations in them.
Teach them to do things in small steps, strengthening them positively for each step they take.
For example, if sometimes you learn to tidy up the bedroom, start by making them put two games in place… and then three… and so on, until they do it all by themselves.
The ultimate goal of our teachings must be to get them used to doing it on their own. The child who is asked to do it on his own is given a message of trust, which is important for his self-esteem.
7. Taking risks and knowing how to say no
A strong person is one who learns to take risks, that is, to carry out his ideas and beliefs in a respectful and non-aggressive way, even at the risk of losing something.
Teaching this attitude, as well as saying no, is important because it will accustom children to having courage and to reject wrong or inappropriate requests.
These attitudes are learned fundamentally through the example of parents.
8. Will power
It conveys to your children the concept that in life to get what you want, you have to commit yourself.
Again, the example of the parent is very important: if after an effort you are satisfied and not just tired, show them that reaching the goal, no matter how tiring, makes them feel fulfilled and feels good.
If the goal is very difficult to achieve, break it down into many small intermediate stages, and use lots of positive reinforcement to encourage your child.
And if one day you don’t make it to the planned stage, don’t dramatize it, you must also teach yourself to be self-indulgent (on the contrary, you risk having a negative view of yourself).
It can be useful to help the child visualize the things he or she has to do with a drawn or written list.
Another trick is to have the same instructions repeated several times so that when the child is in the live situation, the behaviour to be put into practice comes back to him, for example ask him several times: “how will you behave when you are sitting in the classroom with the teacher?
You can also play the game and mimic the behaviour he has to follow. These repetitions serve to automate the gestures and to show the success closer.
9. Limited television and digital devices
Old and new media are sources of distraction: they compromise children’s development and weaken their personality.
A study (by Fabio, Antonietti and Balconi in 2007) has shown that only after one hour of exposure to television school performance decreases.
Other research has shown that early and massive exposure has negative effects on language development, logical skills, socialization and even willpower (Siniscalco 1988).
A similar argument applies to mobile phones. The Canadian Pediatric Academic Societies presented a study in 2017 in which children between 6 months and 2 years old who spent more time with smartphones were more likely to have language delays.
It is therefore important to limit TV or other digital media. The American Academy of Paediatrics advises against any type of screen up to 18 months, from 18 to 24 months very little and well selected content, between two and five years no more than one hour a day and from six years a use however regulated by precise limits.
10. Taking time for yourself
In order to raise a strong child it is important first of all that the parents are well, if you are full of energy you are naturally stronger and more positive and you can set a good example.
If a parent is tired and stressed, they are more likely to have low stamina and react to difficulties with depression and despair.
So first of all try to limit the stress.
Put your worries in the right perspective, often in stressful situations there is a tendency to exaggerate. Ask yourself: “Is what happened really so bad? Will it hurt me?”.
One way to recharge your energy is to dive into the present, not bask in the past or restore happiness the next day. One must learn to enjoy the moment, and to concentrate on the little things of everyday life.
Then don’t forget to give yourself some attention just for yourself: take 20 minutes to read a book, drink a coffee, take a bath…
Do physical activity: a good rule would be three times a week for at least 20 minutes. Exercise affects the release of endorphins that lift your mood and make you feel good.
Try to sleep between seven and eight hours (lack of sleep leads to chronic stress).
If you can’t relax you can try yoga, autogenic training, mindfulness… And finally try to follow a correct diet.