Do your kids have what it takes to succeed in the modern world? We look at five key qualities and how you can nurture them in your children.
There are many things we want for our children – for them to do well in school, to be respectful to their elders, loving towards their siblings, caring towards their friends and to be upstanding young South Africans in our communities.
But often we’re so focused on the academic learning, we don’t give enough consideration to the other things they need to thrive.
Being courageous, content, disciplined, patient and honest will most likely take them further in life than understanding a mathematical problem or acing an English comprehension (those are important too, of course!).
And starting to develop certain personality traits when they’re young will help to address the troubles they can experience in their teens.
We asked Melissa Ndlovu (28), mom of two young kids aged one and three, what traits she wants to see develop in her kids, and we sought expert advice on how she can help nurture these characteristics.
“It’s important my children are able to do things on their own,” Melissa says.
“I believe teaching kids how to do things independently will help them take initiative in the real world. I want them to know they don’t have to wait or rely on someone else to reach their goals – they have the ability to do it themselves.”
Getting there Joburg-based clinical psychologist Karabo Makhafula says independence is important for self-esteem and a sense of achievement.
“Children tend to become increasingly independent as they master various skills, learn to venture out into the world on their own and develop relationships with others,” she explains.
To help them with this:
Let them do things on their own.
Parents should encourage their kids to come up with their own ideas, says Makhafula, but mom and dad can guide them so they develop the confidence to explore in a protected environment.
Start young − for example, let your little ones choose their clothes and dress themselves. Later, let teenagers come up with their own solutions to a problem before you offer yours. Celebrate their abilities. If they put their shoes on the wrong feet, don’t make them feel bad.
Let them work out that it might be more comfortable if they switched them around. Whatever the age, when things don’t go to plan you can remind them it’s a learning curve and they’ll do a better job next time.
“Not all my friends put their kids into daycare or playschool, and I noticed a difference in the way the children interacted with one another,” Melissa says. “Those who stayed at home tended to be shy and didn’t like sharing toys. This made me think about wanting my kids to be able to talk to others and make friends easily.”
Getting there “Connecting with others helps children develop a sense of acceptance and belonging, as they learn about social rules and expected behaviours,” Makhafula says.
She says the family home is usually the first place where children learn how to socialise, so parents should encourage varied interaction between all ages.
You can also:
Encourage them to be helpful and respectful.
Let them help you with household chores – they’ll want to do this when they’re little – so they feel useful. Be affectionate.
Research shows kids who receive love find it easier to give love and are more likely to have friends. Children who don’t have affectionate parents tend to have lower self-esteem and feel more alienated, hostile, aggressive and antisocial than those who do, according to US non-profit research organization Child Trends.
“I try my best to teach my three year old how to show compassion for others. I explain the importance of helping others and show her as well, like by asking her to help me pack up clothes we no longer wear and donating them to charity.”
Getting there Makhafula says traits such as compassion (having concern for others) and altruism (acting in a way that benefits another) are a vital part of kids’ social skills.
There are two sides to this one:
A child’s ability to display compassion towards others.
“Parents can foster compassion in their children by using daily events to highlight situations,” Makhafula says. For example, when they point at a child sleeping on the streets, talk about it. A child’s ability to display compassion towards themselves.
“Children ought to be able to display a level of self-compassion when they fail or don’t meet certain expectations,” Makhafula says. “When children judge themselves harshly, it can result in them developing feelings of inadequacy.”
“My father used to say that when things go pear-shaped, you have to be bold enough to accept responsibility for your actions,” Melissa says.
“I try to teach this by starting with the small things, like taking dirty dishes to the kitchen.” Getting there Accountability is about being responsible – accepting the consequences of our actions and answering for our mistakes. It also teaches good decision-making skills.
Nurturing accountability gets harder as kids get older, but US clinical therapist Megan Devine has these tips to set effective consequences: Punishment doesn’t work.
It’s about changing behaviour.
If Thabo swears, for example, Devine suggests taking his phone away until he can go without swearing for one week.
“The consequence is tied to the behaviour – he swore, so he has to practise not swearing.” It should be task-specific. Thabo has to practise not swearing rather than just being deprived of his phone. It should be time-specific.
Thabo is given a time in which to improve his behaviour – for example, two hours. “The length of time should be long enough that your child has to stretch, but not so long that they lose interest or give up,” Devine says.
“I want my children to find something they love and not be afraid to stand up for it,” Melissa says. “I want them to be sure of their abilities and who they are without trying to fit in with the crowd.”
Getting there “Self-confidence improves self-esteem and gives children space to explore and discover their capabilities,” says Joburg South clinical psychologist Nompumelelo Kubeka. Give them praise when it’s due.
But don’t overdo it, as it’ll become difficult to tell if the compliment is genuine or not. “Parents should avoid being overcritical, as this can result in the child feeling bad about themselves,” Kubeka says.
Look on the bright side. Encourage optimism and find the positive in all situations, even disappointing ones. Set realistic goals.
And let them try to meet them from as young as possible. The aim isn’t perfection – it’s learning. Promote problem-solving.
“Kids are confident when they’re able to negotiate getting what they want,” says developmental psychologist Myrna Shure. She believes you can teach even a young child to solve problems.
“If someone takes your kid’s toy, ask what she thinks would be a good way to get it back,” she suggests.