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How to Raise Kids Who Have Rock-Star Confidence, Even When You Don’t

How to Raise Kids Who Have Rock-Star Confidence, Even When You Don’t

You want your children to have the confidence to go into the world and live fulfilling lives.

At the same time, you want to protect your children from being hurt.

Could your good intentions to keep your children safe conflict with their development of confidence?

As an experiential educator with over 15 years of experience working with children and adolescents, I offer proven guidelines to help your children gain the confidence to face any challenge.

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    Where does confidence come from?

    The Comfort Zone Model provides the ABC’s of confidence building.

    All people have three distinct zones of functioning: The Comfort Zone, The Stretch Zone, and The Panic Zone.

    While we all have each of these zones, their boundaries are different for each of us. Additionally, the boundaries of our zones change throughout our lives.

    The Comfort Zone

    When we are functioning inside the Comfort Zone, we feel safe. Events are predictable.  When we get bored, we know how to find the stimulation we’re looking for.  We feel special, loved and connected.

    The seeds of confidence are sewn in the Comfort Zone because we know exactly how to get our needs met.

    No learning happens inside the Comfort Zone because every need is fulfilled by applying what we already know.

    The Stretch Zone

    Whenever we get uncomfortable, we shift into the Stretch Zone.

    While it’s uncertain and scary, the Stretch Zone is the realm of excitement and growth. We learn new information about the world and discover new abilities we didn’t know we had.

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    Imagine a weightlifter. To increase her strength, she lifts weight frequently. As she does so, the amount of weight she is able to lift changes.

    Likewise, the more we venture into our Stretch Zone, it actually changes the size of our Comfort Zone because what was once uncomfortable becomes comfortable. It also expands the size of our Stretch Zone because we learn creative strategies for handling stress without panicking.

    The weightlifter must continue lifting weight to maintain her strength. If she stops, she will lose strength and won’t be able to lift the weight she once could.

    We must continuously spend time in our Stretch Zones throughout our lives or our Comfort Zone will shrink. Since the boundaries of our Stretch Zone are always changing, we must increase the difficulty of the challenges to feel stretched.

    The Panic Zone

    If our weightlifter lifts too much weight or she lifts too frequently without giving her muscles time to repair, she will get injured. That injury is like going into the Panic Zone.

    There is a thin line that separates the Stretch Zone from the Panic Zone. When the line is crossed, learning and growth stop.

    This is trauma. It doesn’t have to be “capital T” trauma. Little traumas, like small muscle tears, still cause damage.

    The Panic Zone erodes confidence because the message we teach ourselves here is, “I can’t handle this.”

    The Infinite Panic Zone

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      When people have minimal experiences in the Stretch Zone, they don’t have the opportunities for their Comfort Zone to grow. They are only confident in very limited circumstances.

      Additionally, their tolerance for experiences in the Stretch Zone is low. They will quickly shift into the Panic Zone.  Their panicked response is very dramatic, which alarms those around them who will then step in to alleviate the panic and reinstate comfort.

      This is the pattern of a baby, which is appropriate when we are completely dependent on others to meet our needs for us.

      When children or adults spend too much time in the Comfort Zone without adequate time in their Stretch Zone, they will develop an Infinite Panic Zone. When they encounter challenges, they have few strategies to handle these feelings. When they exhaust the few strategies they know, they go into the Panic Zone. Their Infinite Panic Zone keeps them trapped and generates inappropriate responses for their age.

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      The only way out is to begin expanding their Comfort Zones and Stretch Zones by doing challenging things.

      The Picture of Confidence

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        Confident people have large Comfort Zones that allow them to feel comfortable in a wide variety of circumstances. They also have gained a high tolerance for uncertainty, so their Stretch Zones are fairly deep.

        Confident people are fearless, but the circumstances that actually trigger them to go into the Panic Zone are fairly minimal.

        People who are the most confident, therefore, are people who have spent extensive amounts of time in the Stretch Zone. Some may have done so because life forced them there. Others may have made strategic choices to do challenging things that would require them to stretch physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Their experiences have proven to them time and time again that they have the capacity to figure things out and get comfortable with what was once unknown.

        How To Expand the Comfort Zone

        Expanding the Comfort Zone happens by doing challenging things. By definition, this will make us feel uncomfortable. This discomfort, though, serves a purpose. It moves the boundaries of the Comfort Zone and the Stretch Zone, developing greater confidence and resilience.

        This brand of confidence that comes from within, tested by struggle, is the true confidence that allows people to persevere through disaster.

        It is clear that to build confident children, we must dare to be uncomfortable.

        The Parenting Acrobat Act

        Parenting is one the bravest things we can do in our lives.

        Basically, your job is to encourage your child to venture onto a tight rope, walking the line between the Stretch and the Panic Zones.

        It’s tempting to say in this analogy that the parent is safely on the ground watching the child dangling overhead, but this is not so.

        No, you are on a tight rope right next to them, making your own mistakes, too. Neither one of you is on solid ground.

        You may feel like fraud at times because you feel just as shaky and unsure as your child does. Know that this is normal.

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        You don’t need to be the tight rope master to help your child. You just need to actively engage as a fellow student. In fact, seeing yourself as a student, not a master, allows you to empathize with your child and relate to the struggles they face.

        Guidelines for Fellow Acrobats

        As you bravely accept this challenge, use these guidelines to help your child gain greater confidence:

        1.  Accept your child’s freedom of choice.

        All people have a natural need to grow and learn. Children want to feel proud of themselves and know they can do challenging things.

        When we force children to learn before they are ready, we disempower them.

        Accepting the child’s choice reinforces their confidence in themselves. 

        2. Share information to empower your child to make an informed decision.

        Share with your children the rationale behind your desire for them to do anything.

        Use words and reasons that are appropriate to the child’s age and development. Even small children can process simplified explanations.

        3. Learn the signs between your child’s Stretch and Panic Zones.

        Know your child’s responses to being stretched.  Some of their reactions may be pleasant because some aspects of the Stretch Zone are exciting. Other aspects of the Stretch Zone are frightening, and you will see unflattering behaviors from your child.

        When your child is in the Stretch Zone, give space to allow him/her to struggle without feeling judged.

        When your child slips into the Panic Zone, reassure safety and acceptance with factual information.  Do not to discount their fear.

        4. Create an intentional progression of steps for increasing challenge.

        Introduce progressive levels of unfamiliarity and discomfort. Create a non-threatening space for the unfamiliar to become familiar and the uncomfortable to become comfortable.

        Growth is a process. When you focus on the importance of the process, the outcomes will unfold in their due time.

        5. Be the source of calm confidence.

        When your child looks at you with fear, it is important not to mirror your own fears back to them.

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        Offer reassurance by saying, “Nice job! You’re really stretching yourself right now. You are going to be so confident once you get through this. Look how far you’ve come already.”

        Regardless of the outcome, praise your child’s effort.

        6. Model the skills & behaviors you want for your child.

        Playfully challenge your child to test out old skills and take on progressively harder challenges.

        Also model intelligent risk management.  Ask these questions:

        • What might happen if we try that?
        • How much hurt or damage could we cause?
        • How likely is that?
        • What can we do to make sure we stay as safe as possible if we try that?
        • Is what we learn and gain worth the risk?

        7. Allow the child to struggle and find solutions.

        Like a weightlifting partner, you are there to encourage and ensure that the weightlifter doesn’t get injured, but you don’t lift the weight for her.

        Offer advice that has worked for you and honor them if they choose not to try your way. Say, “I have you confidence that you will figure this out.”  Recount the solutions that the child used before in similar situations.

        8. Thoughtfully process experiences with your child to solidify lessons.

        Activity without reflection misses valuable learning opportunities.

        Use these questions to help your child learn from challenging experiences:

        • What do you know now that you didn’t know before?
        • What was the hardest part? What did you do to get past that part?
        • Do you feel proud of yourself? What moments do you remember feeling especially proud?
        • How can what you just learned be helpful in a different situation?

        What happens next?

        Changing how you parent IS stepping into your Stretch Zone.

        At first, you will feel uncomfortable and unsure of yourself. Have faith that you will grow and your Comfort Zone will expand.

        Dare to raise children on a tightrope, and you will raise children who are confident.

        Raise children who know how to struggle, fail, and get back up again and again.

        Raise children who know how to fall flat on their faces and laugh about it without shame.

        Raise children who know how to take an unpopular stance because their moral compass points true.

        Raise children who are stronger than you, who intimidate you with their aptitude, and who bring you to tears with their compassion.

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        Last Updated on January 15, 2019

        How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

        How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

        Many of us feel awkward talking to strangers. I’m a very outgoing person, even though I sometimes feel uncomfortable walking up to someone and asking a question or starting a conversation. I consider myself pretty high up on the extrovert meter. So what is it that makes us pause and become worried or anxious about talking to people we don’t know?

        In this article, we will discuss why we feel this way as well as some tips on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

        Step right up, don’t be shy!

        Why We Feel Awkward Talking to Strangers

        The next time you feel uncomfortable talking to a stranger, tell yourself that’s completely normal. There are numerous reasons why it’s actually natural to feel awkward talking to strangers:

        Our Stress Levels Rise Around Strangers

        Numerous studies have show that our levels of cortisol go up when we are around strangers.[1] Cortisol is the hormone inside of us which produces stress responses.[2]
        So there you go, right off the bat you can see part of your standard response to strangers is due to a chemical reaction!

        A very interesting by product of increased cortisol is that it makes us less empathetic. More than likely this can be traced to our evolution. The increase in the cortisol and the corresponding decrease in empathy makes us want to stay away from strangers. We are biologically wired to feel concern around strangers.

        Evolution Taught Us to Be Wary

        Evolution has also taught us to be wary of strangers in general. Humans as a whole have spent a large chunk of their history banded together in small protective groups. We did this in order to help protect each other and maximize resources.

        When you think about it in this context, outsiders to our small groups or strangers are considered potential threats. Fear of strangers is common across almost all human cultures.

        Culturally Conditioned

        We can also thank our society for helping us feel uncomfortable and sometimes afraid of strangers. The term “stranger danger” is something most of us can relate to either growing up or raising kids. Or both.

        I remember hearing this from my parents, mostly about not getting in someone’s car I didn’t know. And as the father of 2 teenage girls, you can be sure I’ve talked to them about this very concept more times that they want to hear.

        The thought that strangers can be dangerous is built into us as it is. Toss in the amplification of the media on strangers doing things such as kidnapping kids and it takes it to an even higher level.

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        Now that we’ve reviewed some of the reasons why we are nervous, let’s look at why you should talk to strangers more.

        Benefits of Getting over the Awkwardness

        Let’s take a quick look at some of the advantages of how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward. These are some high level benefits of talking to strangers.

        1. Broadens Your Network

        After you talk to someone, you didn’t know previously they become someone you know at least a little bit. This alone helps broaden your network of people you know. This is helpful in many ways whether it is work related or socially related.

        2. Improves Your Communication Skills

        I am a huge proponent of the value of solid communication skills and have written about it often. The more you talk to people, especially people you don’t know, the better your communication skills become.

        Interacting with a wider variety of people will bring the added benefit of improving your communication skills.

        3. Continually Learning

        So many of us don’t actively seek to learn new things. This is one of the primary keys to staying engaged in life and our own personal self fulfillment.

        Almost every time I speak to someone I didn’t know previously, I’ve learned something new. When we speak to strangers, it pushes us out of our comfort zones and we tend to learn new things.

        4. Increases Self Confidence

        Every time we learn to do something we were previously anxious about, we feel better about ourselves.

        Forcing ourselves to talk to strangers will lead to increased self confidence. As we get more and more comfortable doing something that previously made us feel awkward, our self confidence will go up and up.

        So, how to talk to strangers to reap these benefits?

        How to Talk to Strangers

        Here are some tips to on how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

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        1. Say Hello

        Putting “say hello” first may seem a bit obvious but let’s take a deeper look. Much of the social awkwardness when speaking to strangers is simply breaking the ice. The first words that will engage someone.

        Most people will respond when someone says hello or hi to them. And those that don’t, you probably don’t want to talk to anyway.

        Practice being the person that opens the door to a conversation. Say hello.

        2. Ask About Them

        Something that I have noticed over the years is that people love to talk about themselves. Even fairly private people tend to open up when asked about events in their lives.

        You can ask leading questions that get people to talk about themselves and recent events. Things like recent movies watched or the summer vacation are great to get someone talking.

        As a father, I also know that people love to talk about their kids. Asking about kids is a fairly easy topic to bring up and in general, most people will expound upon all the great things their kids do or are involved with.

        3. Just Do It

        One of the biggest reasons we don’t do things we want to or know we should is because we overthink it. Quit thinking about it so much and just do it.

        When you give yourself the time to analyze every little angle about a situation, you also give plenty of time to talk yourself out of it. You’ll wind up thinking what if this happens or what if that happens.

        Try to force yourself to jump right in without thinking about it too much. Whenever I have done this, I always feel great about it afterwards, no matter how it turned out.

        4. Don’t Take It Personal

        One of the greatest lessons in life I ever learned was don’t take anything personally. We all go through life with our own sets of experiences and see things through our own lens. The way people react to different situations has almost nothing to do with us. It has to do with previous experiences and the way people feel about things other than us.

        When someone’s reaction isn’t what you’d hoped or expected, chances are it has nothing to do with you. Remember that and keep it in context.

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        5. Get a Chuckle If Possible

        I used the word chuckle purposely because it makes me laugh. In my opinion, it’s one of those funny words. We all like to laugh because it makes us feel good. And when someone makes us laugh, we typically remember those people in a positive light.

        One of the best ways to make a conversation easy and free flowing is to get some laughter going. It doesn’t mean you have to be the master joke teller or anything. See if you can work in a way to make the person you are talking to get a smile or some laughter in. In fact, laughing at yourself maybe a nice try.

        6. Detach

        A great feeling is when you don’t mind which way something turns out, that you will be fine no matter what happens. Kind of like when I watch my two favorite football teams play against each other. I don’t really care who wins, I just want a fun game.

        Treat talking to strangers the same way. You don’t really care how the conversation goes because you are detaching from the outcome. Make it a fun time with yourself and if the conversation goes well, awesome! If not then no big deal, move on.

        7. Share Your Stories

        Well, all like to feel connected to other people. And many times we wind up hanging out with people that we have things in common with. No surprise here.

        To help with how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward, tell stories that have commonalities with the person you are talking to. Kids are an easy one. I have a daughter who was a competitive cheerleader and now plays club volleyball. I have instant connection and stories with strangers I speak with who have kids that play sports. It’s easy to relate to.

        So when you are speaking to a stranger and you have a story or mutual connection point, bring it up.

        8. Give a Compliment

        Almost everyone likes hearing a compliment, whether they admit to it or not. As a general rule, we don’t give out enough compliments. It’s amazing how one small remark someone tosses your way about how good you look can literally make your entire day.

        When you are speaking with someone you don’t know, see if you can work a compliment in. Nothing creepy here. Not a good idea to tell someone you just met that they are the prettiest or handsomest person you ever met. However, if you can share how you like their tattoo or shoes or something like that, it will help put the conversation into an easy going, smiling place.

        9. Relax Your Body Language

        If you go into a situation all worried and nervous, it shows on your body. Your shoulders are tensed up, there’s a look of consternation on your face, things like that.

        When you engage a stranger in conversation, make it a point to relax your body language. Take a deep breath before you engage the person, let your body relax, and put a smile on your face. This will help relax you and it has the added benefit of putting the other person more at ease.

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        If they see that you are relaxed, it helps them relax. Plus having open, engaging body language is very conducive to inviting someone to open up into a conversation with you.

        10. Practice, Practice, Practice

        Like everything else in life, talking to strangers gets easier with practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

        Make it a point to talk to several strangers each week and it will definitely help you relax as you do it more and more.

        After a while, it will become something you don’t even think about, you just do it. And that takes all of the awkwardness out of being in these type situations.

        The Bottom Line

        As we have seen, it is perfectly natural to feel awkward talking to strangers. We are biologically built that way and we have our own society constantly warning us how dangerous it is. It’s no wonder we feel awkward talking to strangers!

        There are numerous benefits to learning to be more comfortable talking to strangers. See if you can employ some of the techniques mentioned to learn how to talk to strangers without feeling awkward.

        Once you start practicing speaking with strangers more often and utilizing some of the tips, you will become more comfortable doing so. This in turn will lead to a learned new skill and increased self confidence.

        Remember, everyone you know was a stranger at one time. Now get out there and make some new friends.

        More Resources About Strengthening Communication Skills

        Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

        Reference

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