If you haven’t seen 13 Going on 30, let me tell you about it. Jenna Rink, the main character, makes her thirteenth birthday wish to be “Thirty, Flirty, and Thriving”. She wakes up as the “thirty and flirty” Jenna Rink (played by Jennifer Garner).

If you hadn’t guessed it, Jenna picked thirty because that’s the age when you’ve got it all figured out. You go from flat-chested loser to full-busted editor at a major fashion magazine. Life is good — you’re independently and unconditionally self-confident.

….Right?

Jennifer_Garner[2]

As we all know now — wrong. There’s no age that happens. Becoming unconditionally self-confident that is. Self-confidence comes from the ability to communicate with others and with one’s own community.

That’s why it’s important to not encourage unconditional and solely independent self-confidence in children, but instead, skills which lend themselves to children (and eventually adults) being realistically and sustainably self-confident. And that includes self-confidence in the ability to embrace resilience through social support in the face of ego-damaging situations.

What Kinds of Skills?

So I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, but let’s try to throw around some general guidelines. I don’t want you to be telling your kid that I’m the one responsible for a summer at Math Camp if he’s really more into football. Communication with your child is paramount in deciding what works for your child (it sounds like an obvious truth but I, coming from a rather authoritarian household, don’t take this for granted).

– Talents your child is predisposed to (e.g. writing)

– Talents your child is completely terrible at, but also is terribly passionate about (e.g. mathematics).

– Group activities that encourage socialization pertaining to the world that you’re socializing your child into (e.g. cooking classes or cooking activities if you’re part of a big Italian family).

I encourage you to try to sway your child toward long-term pay-off extracurriculars. I have to tell everybody something — as a child of maybe 5 or 6 I was an OK dancer. My dance studio had a recital at the end of the dance season which included really sparkly crop tops and pants.

Needless to say it wasn’t of my mother’s taste. I begged to go. It was a combination of #1 and #2 for me from the above guidelines…but I wasn’t allowed. Instead, I went to a science camp of sorts at the University of Arkansas that Summer with the money she could’ve spent on me for the recital.

I can’t tell you it was a blast — it wasn’t, somehow I got stuck with all of the older kids — but I can look back on it now and appreciate her decision. It was a long-term pay-off extracurricular; dancing in a sparkly tank top on stage with my friends was not. I did at least learn some things from the camp, and I did go home that Summer with a love for astronomy. It wasn’t overwhelmingly fun, but it certainly was useful for my growth and development as a human being. Most importantly it opened the door for my ability to communicate with the scientific community one day.

Now, I don’t think signing your child up for sailing camp should be the end-all.

You know how they say kids soak up things like sponges?

They don’t — they’re more like monkeys.

baby_monkey[3]

And you know what they say: Monkey see, monkey do.

So in your own communications & habits I encourage you to seek:

Effective conflict resolution – no yelling or screaming! Talk out things patiently with your child to some extent. Trust me, I’ve been there, trying to get a grumpy 3 year old dressed to go to school in the morning, and there’s no reasoning with that. Saying, “I’m sorry, dear, you can’t wear your yellow rain boots and a tutu to school in the Winter,” just doesn’t seem to compute in a 3-year-old’s brain. Lay down the law so you don’t lose your own sanity, but at other times the phrase “Jesus take the wheel” — whispered under your breath — might begin to take on a veeerryy specific meaning for you.

This will help your child learn how to negotiate frustrating situations which will mitigate his feelings of helplessness (thereby improving chances of building self-confidence).

Meditation or deep breathing. This could help you with effective conflict resolution. By learning to control impulses to some extent, and reflect on her own thoughts, your child will begin to learn how to analyze her own behavior and either self-correct or reach out for help. The first step to solving a problem is knowing there’s one, after all!

I’d be happy if my 5th graders could just sit still for 2 minutes, so you’re really going to have to be dedicated with this one. Maybe start with 30 seconds and work your way up. There are guided meditation apps which I highly recommend so you’re not stranded with your own thoughts right away: The Best Meditation iPhone and Android Apps of the Year

Direct communication with your child. This is of utmost importance — your child is a little human in there — a person with thoughts and feelings. Sometimes children can be quite articulate and other times they can be rather monstrous. Again, you make the call where you need to in order to maintain your sanity. However, don’t use passive aggressive communication. That little human will then most definitely communicate with others passive aggressively, and that’s not good for effective conflict resolution or for reaching out for help when needed.

You know what they say…monkey see, monkey do.
[1] Source: https://theoverlookedonlookers.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/screen-shot-2013-10-16-at-12-04-37-am.png
[2] Source: http://erinsmith.theworldrace.org/?filename=30-single-sad
[3] Source: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/snow-monkeys-video-monkey-babies-start-to-explore/8806/

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A pre-med student from Gainesville, FL.