If any of us said we didn't have at least some aspirations for our children, we'd be lying. But for many of us, those aspirations are much simpler than any lofty notions that we might have spawned doctors and barristers: we just want our children to be healthy and happy, we wish for them to grow into well adjusted, confident adults, capable of making their own decisions (whether or not we agree with them!).
But is that quite as easy as it sounds? Social networking and the internet appear to be making the world ever more accessible – but there is a danger that virtual reality is simultaneously making the worlds of individuals ever more insular.
'Chatting' online, 'gaming' with children on the other side of the planet, learning about the world through a screen – it's hugely important that these things are balanced with real life experiences if we want our children to end up well-rounded, confident young men and women.
Remember, not every child is born an extrovert
There is a fascinating book, by American author Susan Cain, called Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking. It discusses society's tendency to celebrate extroverts, to assume they'll be the most successful, to assume they'll rule the world. But the fact is, not all kids are born this way, and that's fine – in fact, it's more than fine, it's a good thing.
There are many ways in which introverted children can learn to be self-assured without being brash and without ever being the loudest person in the room, all with gentle encouragement.
It's really worth a read if you're worried about your child being a little shy.
Talk, talk, talk!
Without a doubt, talking to your child from the time they are born will help them to quickly develop their language skills and soon they'll be mimicking and talking right back!
With toddlers and young children, don't be afraid to use words they won't know – using babyish language will only hinder the speed at which your little sponge learns.
And later, if your family life seems to be getting increasingly busy, deliberately set aside times (meal times are the obvious choice) when you all talk about your day, or what's going on in your individual lives. It's invaluable for strengthening family bonds, which make your child feel secure.
Just as not every child is born an extrovert, not every child is naturally sporty. But, whether it's a team or individual sport, do encourage your child to find physical activities they enjoy because they can reap so many rewards.
Health benefits include lower body fat and stronger bones, not to mention increased stamina and concentration. Children who are active are also at a lower risk of suffering from depression and anxiety.
Group sports especially can instil confidence, and lay the groundwork for essential life skills, such as working as part of a team.
...and getting creative
It would seem like the obvious weekend activity for outgoing children, but shyer children, too can gain a lot from attending creative classes, such as dance or drama workshops.
Often taught in small groups, kids can build their self esteem in an environment which is both fun and immensely stimulating.
In particular, drama can lay the foundations for key skills, like clear and articulate communication.
Some drama organisations operate nationwide – the Helen O'Grady Drama Academy offers a free trial session to new students, which is brilliant for your child to decide if it's for them.
Encourage children to read for pleasure...
It's a pastime which appears to be in decline – but children stand to miss out on so much if they don't read for pleasure. Every new word stretches their vocabulary and, more importantly, their imagination.
A library full of books is a place where a child can make their own choices and learn about what really interests them.
What's more, literature has the power to teach them about every aspect of life and the world, from historical facts and events to how they manage their own, perfectly natural, emotions.
...and to take responsibility
Don't assume that tiny children will hate it if you ask them to tidy up their toys – they often like being tasked with this sort of 'grown up' job, and they'll bristle with pride when its done. Similarly older children are likely to rise to the challenge if you afford them increasing amounts of responsibility.
As an example, when your child/teen has reached an appropriate age (and only you can decide when this is), give them half the shopping list in the supermarket, and arrange to meet them at the checkout.
Little things like this can help to build their confidence, allow them to make responsible choices, and show you trust their judgement.
Praise their efforts, not only their achievements
A recent study showed that parents who constantly praise their children might not be doing them any good; phrases such as "well done, darling!" and "you're so clever!" are examples of "empty praise" according to researcher Stephen Grosz.
Before we roll our eyes and chalk it up as yet another way in which we're apparently doing the parenting thing all wrong, let's think about it, because it does make sense.
Our kids have to be prepared to work, and to work hard, if they are going to succeed. Telling them everything they do is brilliant now is unlikely instil in them the desire to strive, to push themselves harder, to be the best they can be. And discovering they're actually not as brilliant as the next guy, well, that will be harsh when it comes!
Of course praise should be given, but praise their effort most of all.
Allow children to have 'me time' too
The phrase 'me time' is often used by haggard parents, desperate for some time alone to pursue their own interests (and possibly save their own sanity). But children need to have 'me time' too, and to be allowed to choose how they spend it.
As wonderful as weekend classes and activities might be, it could be detrimental to your child's sense of self if they're never allowed to discover – on their own – what they like doing, and what they don't.
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Shyness in children
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