I need to tell you something important. The majority of us are raising average children. Not Olympians, not Nobel Prize winners, not multilingual, entrepreneurial, world-saving geniuses.
Before you write me an angry email explaining the many ways your kids are very much above average, please understand, I think my own children are spectacular. When my daughter sings, I hear angels. When my son plays basketball, I imagine his first NBA courtside interview. You know, the one where he thanks his mom for her tireless support and promises to buy her a house? I think my kids are gloriously, stunningly special, and I hope you feel the same way about your kids, too. This is exactly as it should be.
The statistical truth, however, is that most of our kids are not gifted athletes or musical prodigies. It's not personal, it's just math. It's kind of a relief, really. Takes a little bit of the pressure off, doesn't it?
Yet, our mostly average kids can accomplish amazing — even extraordinary — things. How do we help them do this? By encouraging the development of a healthy, realistic sense of self-confidence. Our job is not to give endless ambiguous pep talks about reaching for the stars and chasing dreams (although these certainly have their place). Our job is to help our kids be able — able to self-reflect, able to set goals, able to work hard and able to be independent.
In its Expert Tips & Advice column, PBS Parents offers "12 Tips for Raising Confident Kids." The list includes allowing kids to fail, embracing imperfection and helping them find their passion. My favorite tip is "praising perseverance" because "confidence isn't about succeeding at everything all the time, it's about being resilient enough to keep trying, and not being distressed if you're not the best."
In the Parents magazine article "9 Secrets of Confident Kids," writer Alina Tugend points out that we should stop preventing our children from feeling discouraged or making mistakes. We also need to promote problem-solving, nurture our kids' special interests, and find ways for them to be of service to others. These things provide opportunities for our kids to feel capable.
No matter how much we'd really like our future NBA star to buy us a sweet new house, instilling confidence in our kids is not about deluding them — or ourselves — about the nature of their talents and limitations. It's about helping them try and letting them fail. It's about teaching them to get back up and try again.