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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, 2021

        7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

        7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

        The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

        Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

        Posture

        First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

        • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
        • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
        • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
        • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

        All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

        Facial Expressions

        Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

        • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
        • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
        • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

        If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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        1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

        A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

        The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

        This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

        2. Relax Your Face

        New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

        The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

        To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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        3. Improve Your Eye Contact

        Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

        The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

        To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

        3. Smile More

        There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

        Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

        4. Hand Gestures

        Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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        It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

        5. Enhance Your Handshake

        In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

        “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

        It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

        6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

        As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

        Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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        Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

        Final Takeaways

        Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

        If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

        More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

        Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

        Reference

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