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Praise, Love and Boundaries: Raising Self-Confident Kids In This Wild World

By Melody M. Ott

LCSW with Wellbeing Collective

Mornings are the most dreaded time of my day. They usually begin with me teaching an early morning fitness class (usually my only “me” time for the day), which means I am pressed for time and still have to get the kids (and myself) ready to take on the day (this means about 30 minutes to be out the door)!

Thankfully, I have a husband who helps tremendously in this regard, but try as I might to be calm and sweet, my mornings never seem to go quite like I want them to. They often look something like this: “Get dressed and eat breakfast please.” “I asked you to get dressed!” “Please do not touch your brother (one of them is screaming).” “I said keep your hands to yourself, and GET DRESSED!” “No, you may not eat breakfast and watch TV (this creates a zombie effect which means we will never be ready to go!).” “If I have to ask you to get dressed again, there is going to be a problem.” “DO NOT TOUCH YOUR BROTHER!” and so it goes until I feel that I may either explode or cry or maybe both!

Somehow we manage to get out the door every morning, dressed (mostly), and with our things (usually)!

Despite the fact that my mornings can be a challenge (and a bit of a comedy routine) and my patience can run short, it is my personal goal each day that my children know how much I love them, that they feel proud of their unique gifts and talents and that they understand what is expected of them.

You see, I believe that being a mother is the most important job that exists. (Without mothers we wouldn't have Nobel Peace Prize Winners or Presidents or anyone else for that matter!) As a mother, I believe that it is my duty to love unconditionally, to set clear boundaries, and to raise self-confident and self-aware children. This is no small task, and let’s face it, some days are better than others (kids have a way of wearing you down!).

I know that children who feel good about themselves have an easier time dealing with conflict and the pressures of life. They are also happier, more optimistic and find more joy in life. This sounds pretty good to me! I also know that I accomplish this not through yelling (although when they don’t listen the first three times I am tempted!), not through putting my children down, not through humiliation, but through praise, love and boundaries.

First, praise, praise, praise.

I find it so easy to get caught up in all of the things my children are NOT doing. Sometimes, in the craziness of it all, I might forget to simply take notice of the small things.Even in the mornings, as hectic as they can be, my children are doing things like helping one another find a lost shoe, getting the baby out of bed, getting cups that are out of reach down from the cabinet, listening the first time, brushing their teeth without a reminder, etc. I have amazing kids (I mean, the apple doesn't fall far, right?)! I am quick to brag on them to other people, but sometimes I neglect to brag on them to them! Developing a positive self-image and self-esteem begins here, with our recognition and praise. Children who feel good about themselves are often more confident in making decisions and are better able to maintain healthy relationships as they get older.

Second, tell your children you love them.

Tell them again and again. Have discussions about that love. Sometimes children will misbehave. They will break rules. It wasn't fun when my son told me that he thought I was the meanest mom in the world and that he didn't love me, but my response was, “there is nothing that you can say or do that will ever change my love for you.” His behavior was another story, but my love is always available without any strings attached. When we share that love with our children, not only are we teaching them how to love their future spouse and children, we are teaching them how to love their siblings, their friends, and all of the people that they will encounter in their lives. Being able to give and receive love allows our children to know their value and worth.

Finally, set clear boundaries.

One of the biggest struggles parents I work with share is that they cannot seem to find consequences that work well with their children. To this I respond, “Know your rules and your consequences before you need them.” What I mean is, when you are calm, when it is not necessary to be making a rule or consequence in the heat of the moment, develop a list of rules for your children (different children need different rules!). It is critical that we say what we mean and mean what we say. When you give your child a consequence, it MUST be something that you can stick to. Don’t punish yourself when you punish your children! Sit down with your children and work to develop consequences for breaking the rules. Encourage your children to have some input as to what the consequences are. This will eliminate arguing later; after all, they helped to develop the consequence! When children have clearly defined expectations, we teach them to make informed decisions and that their decisions have consequences (sometimes good and sometimes bad). In the long run, they develop self-confidence and become great decision makers.

Being a mom is the most difficult job I will ever hold. As a mom I have to juggle the demands of my family and home as well as the demands of my jobs (yes, there are two, three if you count being a mom!). In my mind, I should do this with a smile on my face and be perfectly coordinated at all times. In reality, my children need me to be me (even when I miss-match my shoes), they need me to love them, and they need me to guide them with clear expectations. It is okay for me to show my emotions, my weakness, my faults. It is okay for me to have a “rough day.” It is okay for me to make mistakes and admit it when I do. Being a Supermom will always be hard work, but it will always be the most awesome job I will ever have.

Hang in there, keep working to raise confident, happy children, and may you have many happy mornings!



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