When we speak for our kids, we rob them of their power and block them from developing self-confidence and the potential to thrive. Parenting expert and best-selling author Michele Borba, Ed.D., shares tips to help you empower your daughter to speak up starting today. Dr. Borba is the author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine.
Eight Ways to Help Your Daughter Find Her Voice
As parents, we often jump in and speak for our children. We do this because we mean well and want to protect them. Dr. Borba says this doesn’t do kids any favors. In fact, it could be holding them back.
“Parents think they’re doing the right thing by sweeping in and taking charge, but in truth, we are robbing them by rescuing them,” she says. “Each time we helicopter, solve their problems, and speak up in their place, we take away some of our children’s power to figure things out on their own. We’re doing this in part to calm our own nervousness and worries about wanting them to succeed, but in the end it prevents our children from gaining confidence and learning to stand up for themselves.”
Tips to Help Your Kids Start Speaking Up
1) Start noticing when you’re doing all the talking.
Yes, you may mean well, but this prevents your child from thinking for herself. You may be even more likely to “rescue” your child if he or she is shy. “When kids are quiet, shy, or appear to be stymied, it can feel natural to jump right in and speak for them,” says Dr. Borba. “Resist this urge and soon your child will realize that you expect them to come up with their own responses, even if it takes a while.”
2) Make your child start speaking for herself.
Practice stepping back and waiting patiently for your child to answer when someone asks them a question or while they figure out a solution to a problem. Give them plenty of time to warm up and allow them the time and space to come through with their response. Take this approach even for little things—it’s the simple everyday experiences that will add up and teach them to manage their voice.
3) Give her opportunities to speak out at home.
Kids need practice in finding their voice and developing opinions so they can confidently voice their views. The Three A’s can help your daughter develop strong reasoning and ethical assertiveness:
- Allow disagreement. The best place for kids to learn to speak up is at home, so hold family meetings to address anything from family concerns (allowances, chores) to world issues (poverty, bullying). Set clear rules: Everyone gets a turn and has equal airtime. Listen to each person’s full idea. No put-downs allowed. Encourage your child to express opinions and when disagreements come up, help them offer a strong “why.”
- Ask questions. Use prompts to help kids think about moral issues and defend their views. Such as: Who do you admire? List three of that person’s admirable qualities. Or: Describe an incident or event from which you learned a lesson the hard way.
- Assert your beliefs. Kids need our permission to speak up and recognize that we expect them to do the right thing. And we must teach kids that having integrity isn’t easy, standing up for moral beliefs is hard, and peer pressure is intense. Practice together until they can do so without guidance.
4) Get them comfortable with taking risks.
Support your child by giving them permission to stray off course. Let them know they can be passionate about their original ideas and willing to defend them, even if it means deviating from the norm. Further, encourage them to stretch their comfort zones by encouraging them to take a few low risks: “Write down your thought first, so you have the courage to share it with the class.” “Tell your teacher your thought after class.”
5) Come up with a script and practice it until they are comfortable speaking for themselves.
Sooner or later, your daughter will need to talk one-on-one with a coach, a teacher, or a peer. This situation is a good time to help them plan what they would like to say and practice it ahead of time. Remind them, “Hey, you’ve got this. Let’s practice what you want to say together. Or, you can rehearse it in front of a mirror until you can do it on your own.”
6) Show them how to stand up for themselves.
Emphasize that while you can’t control what another person says or does, you can control how you respond. So help your child learn to self-advocate by using the strategy CALM:
- C: Chill. There are two quick ways to appear calmer and more confident: 1. Uncross your legs and arms; 2. Make your voice sound not too soft (meek) or harsh (angry).
- A: Assert. Brainstorm a few assertive lines that your child can say in difficult situations like, “Not cool.” “Cut it out.” “I don’t want to!” Firm, short statements work best.
- L: Look strong. Kids are taken less seriously if they look vulnerable, so teach these assertive body language senders: Hold your head high and look eye to eye, pull your shoulders back, keep your arms at your sides, and keep your feet placed firmly on the ground.
- M: Mean it. Help your child practice assertive voice tone: It should be strong and firm, but not yelling or angry.
“If you always defend your child, she won’t develop inner confidence and will rely on you,” says Dr. Borba. “From this moment on, step back and help your child learn to speak for herself.”
7) Make them practice every day.
As a rule, encourage your kids to speak for themselves in age-appropriate ways every day. Coach younger children to raise their hand at least once a day to answer a question in class and place their food orders at restaurants. Older kids can call to schedule their doctor appointments or apply for summer jobs without your supervision.
8) Remind them (and yourself) that it’s okay if they struggle.
Explain to your daughter that setbacks and mistakes are okay. If they mess up, encourage them to try again. Ultimately, these setbacks will help your child take a big step forward. And remember that as a parent, watching the struggle may be very difficult for you as well. Don’t rescue them.
Your Daughter Will Live Without You Someday
“Keep in mind that your goal is to prepare your kids to live without you someday,” says Dr. Borba. “It’s never too early to start helping them build their independence. Give them plenty of encouragement and praise. Celebrate successes, however large or small. It’s not easy for children to push themselves outside of their comfort zones, so be sure to let them know they are doing a great job. This will encourage them to keep speaking up and increase their confidence.”
“Every parent wants their child to have a sense of purpose and meaning for their own life,” she concludes. “By helping our kids speak for themselves, we are setting them up to follow their own path and live up to their real potential with confidence and joy and to thrive.”
Michele Borba, EdD
More Girls That Create posts: Five Tips to Help Your Girl Interview Someone for a Story and A Conversation with Dr. Michele Borba about Thrivers
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