Once again I have been Foolish and Deluded. I have committed the cardinal sin. I have transgressed my own rules. I have read an "expert" article on parenting. And now I am wracked with guilt and self-doubt. The article's all about raising a confident child, and about all the things to do right and therefore, by implication, all the things you might be doing wrong in raising your child.
Those of you who have been stalking me assiduously, or paying an alarming degree of attention to what I write, will recall that when setting out on the extraordinary adventure that is parenthood, BigBear and I discussed our hopes and fears for our proto-child. And we were unanimous in our desire to try to instill self-confidence, healthy self-esteem and happiness into whatever progeny we gave rise to.
And already, it feels as though I'm failing in my quest. My LittleBear is anxious and unconfident. Not always, not everywhere, and not with everyone. But there are clues to his lack of confidence...
- if I try to read him a new story, he puts his hands over his ears, just in case. He always wants to look through all the pictures in a book first, and discuss what might be happening, before he'll risk a new story, a new peril, a new outcome.
- if we go to the park, and there are other children there, he'll only play on equipment with no other child in evidence. If another child appears? He retreats. If all the play equipment is in use? He stands at the side of the park, head tucked down into his shoulders, not wanting to join in. This occurs even if he's there with his friends. We went to a play park with the small Tiggers, of whom BoyTigger is LittleBear's absolute hero and idol. And though BoyTigger and GirlTigger rushed off to play, LittleBear stood forlornly at the edge, immune to all encouragement, and then finally asked to go home.
- if he's faced with new food, he shakes his head, refuses to speak, and will get close to tears at the thought of trying anything new.
- if we play at a friend's house, and there are other children there too, he stays by my side, playing his own games, only with me, and hides behind me if another child tries to talk to him.
- if we go to a party, LittleBear remains attached to me in a limpet like fashion, unwilling or unable to interact with other people, only me.
I try, I really do try, to encourage, and support, and love and praise my beautiful, fragile little boy. And now yet another person is announcing that the power to raise a confident child lies solely with the parents. That the failure to raise a confident child lies solely with the parents. Another person is denying the possibility that there are inherent differences in personality, that there are traits that are not changed simply by being a better parent. I'm being the best parent I know how to be. More than that, I'm being a parent who is aware and alert to avoiding damaging an emerging sense of self in my son. And yet, still, I feel as though my baby is faced with a battle that I can't win for him. That I can't parent his way out of. And while I'm facing the dawning realisation that maybe this is just the way he is, I'm simultaneously being told the 17 Amazing Tips to Raise a Confident Child, as though that's all it takes. A recipe. A list. A set of check boxes.
For those who haven't read the article I linked to, these are the things I should be doing to make sure I raise a confident child.
1. Appreciate effort no matter if they win or lose
2. Encourage practice to build competence
3. Let them figure out problems by themselves
4. Let them act their age
5. Encourage curiosity
6. Give them new challenges
7. Avoid creating short cuts or making exceptions for your child
8. Never criticise their performance
9. Treat mistakes as building blocks for learning
10. Open the door to new experiences
11. Teach them what you know how to do
12. Don't tell them when you're worried about them
13. Praise them when they deal with adversity
14. Offer your help and support, but not too much of it
15. Applaud their courage to try something new
16. Celebrate the excitement of learning
17. Be authoritative, but not too forceful or strict
I've read this list, over and over again, and the description that goes with each item. And I've really tried to think critically about whether I do or don't manage those things. And honestly? I think I occasionally slip up on points 4, 7, 12 and 14, but I've pretty much nailed the rest. Seriously, I could give you chapter and verse, with examples, photographic evidence and citations of me doing exactly those things. In fact, now I've read what I should be doing, I'm actually quite pleased to discover that it's more or less exactly what I am doing. The disappointing thing is that it doesn't bloody well work.
And it makes me angry that "experts" parade their knowledge around, telling us all how to be better parents, how not to get it all wrong, how to make sure our children end up psychologically healthy, physically strong, mentally agile or whatever else their book is touting. And never do they acknowledge the spectrum of humanity that is represented in children. Never do they say, "actually, for the most part, if you're a good enough parent, your child will turn out however it's going to turn out, and you just have to roll with it".
And I'm trying to roll with it, really I am. I'm trying to walk the tightrope of giving LittleBear the opportunity to step out and try new things, while giving him the cushion of warmth and love to know that he's safe and loved no matter what he does. I'm trying not to worry too much about his fear of the unknown. I'm trying not to be petrified that next week he starts at school with 96 other four-year olds, of whom he's familiar with a scant handful, and friends with one. I'm trying not to cry when I think of him standing at the edge of the playground, afraid to join in. I'm trying not to break down when I picture him not eating anything at lunch-time as the new and strange food choices scare him into silence and terror. I'm trying. I'm really, really trying.