“It’s good. You’ll like it.”
“Yuck. No I won’t.”
“How do you know you won’t like it if you haven’t tried it?”
“It looks gross.”
“Well, it’s not, and your mother worked really hard at making a nice dinner for us, so eat it!”
“I can’t. I’ll throw up!”
“No you won’t – and you’re not getting up from this table until you’ve eaten it, young lady, so you’d better get started now!”
And so the lines are drawn, and the battle begins . . .
Sound familiar? I don’t know any father who hasn’t played out the above scenario in some form or another with his kids, and it can be a very frustrating experience on both sides.
Granted, if our children’s biggest struggle is with trying new food at dinner, they’re probably not going to be emotionally crippled for life. On the other hand, if they are paralyzed with fear about trying anything new, they could miss out on a great deal of the joy and adventure of living.
So what can we do as fathers to help our children overcome their fears and welcome new experiences in life?
We can proactively address four underlying beliefs that hold our kids back, and we can build a set of beliefs into the foundation of their character that will help them embrace the new rather than fear it.
4 Limiting Beliefs That Hold Kids Back
Belief #1: Inability (“I can’t do it”)
Kids sometimes think that because they haven’t done something before, that means they can’t do it. As fathers, we can help foster a sense of independence in our children by giving them small things to do from a very young age. We can encourage their natural inclination to want to “do it myself”, then congratulate them on their successes, and not criticize when the finished product is less than perfect.
My 8-year-old daughter Charissa and I were building Lego houses together a few months ago. After a while, I saw how I could “improve” part of her design. I started rebuilding a stairway so it would be more sturdy and, in my opinion, more aesthetically pleasing. My daughter saw what I was doing and said seven words that had me scrambling to put things back the way I found them. She looked at me with her big eyes and just said, “I worked really hard on that, Daddy.” I’m grateful she spoke up and helped me realize that despite my good intentions, I was sending her a message that she wasn’t good enough. I pray I never make that mistake again.
Belief #2: Incompetence (“I won’t be good at it”)
Even when a child realizes they have the ability to do something new, they may not have the assurance they can do it well. For some kids, that’s a show-stopper. As fathers, we can help foster a sense of confidence in our children by giving sincere praise for their accomplishments. By celebrating their achievements with them, our children grow more self-assured and more eager to try something new.
Charissa is learning how to play basketball, and before her first game, she was terrified she would make a mistake and be embarrassed in front of everyone. Fortunately, she has a great coach. He made a concerted effort to give positive feedback for every good move on the court, and by the time the game was over, Charissa’s main comment was, “That was fun!” I want to be an encouraging coach for her as well, so every new experience she has will end with the same feeling.
Belief #3: Insecurity (“I’m not safe”)
If children don’t feel safe, they have a difficult time taking risks with new situations. Kids need to know they are loved and protected unconditionally. As fathers, we can help foster a sense of security in our children by showing them how important they are to us and by providing them with a stable environment. We do this by spending time with them, enjoying them, and listening carefully to how they feel.
When Charissa was six years old, I took her to a local Daddy-Daughter Dance. I left the house early and purchased a white rose, then drove back home and rang the front doorbell. When my wife opened the door, I saw Charissa all dressed up with her face just beaming at me, and it brought tears to my eyes. I knew I’d done something right. I’d added to Charissa’s foundational beliefs about her value, her security and her confidence. I’d let her know she was loved.
Belief #4: Inadequacy (“If I fail, I’m a failure”)
If children get their sense of worth out of succeeding in what they do, then when they don’t succeed, their sense of worth plummets. Rather than take that risk, some kids just avoid trying anything new. As fathers, we can help foster a sense of strength in our children that helps them cope with the inevitable mistakes and missteps of life. We do this verbally by letting them know it’s okay to make mistakes, and by not criticizing, teasing, or disapproving when they mess up. We also strengthen our kids by modeling the process for them. We can do new things together with them, and when it doesn’t go as planned, let them know it’s ok, help them think through a solution, and show them we’re still having fun.
I decided that for my daughter’s birthday this year, I was going to build a cake for her in the shape of a castle. I’d never done anything like this before, but how hard could it be? At one point in the process, Charissa saw the cake, and although she was polite, I could tell she had some doubts about how it was going to turn out. So did I. When her mother called to reassure Charissa that it couldn’t be that bad, her response was, “Oh but Mom, you can’t see it.” Well, I modeled some perseverance and determination that day. After adding about 30 reinforcing skewers, a Rice Krispy retaining wall around the whole cake, and even a few nails pounded into the foundation, it turned out all right. Charissa loved it, and I think she learned a valuable lesson about how to accept mistakes and push on through.
Every child is different, and some will be more intimidated by new things than others, and that’s okay. But all will benefit from having a solid foundation based on these four core beliefs replacing the limiting beliefs outlined above:
As good dads, our influence over our children in these four areas is greater than that of anyone else. As we teach, encourage, support, and model these foundational beliefs for our kids, we will reap the reward of watching them grow and enjoy all the new experiences life has to offer.
For more great insights and tips be sure to subscribe to our Good Dads Podcast, and check out this Building Leadership Traits podcast where we discover ways we as dads can help prepare our Generation Z kids to be future leaders -- including the importance of letting your kids fail.
Steve Moser is the father of four and the husband of Mindy. He lives with his wife and his youngest child, Charissa, in Springfield, MO where he serves as the Parish Life Pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church. He can be reached for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org
Books empower children to be more successful by teaching many important life skills, and regularly reading to your children is time spent nurturing and showing them affection. There is literally no downside to the time you spend with your children and books, and it's never too early to start!
Gary Beckman, long-time first grade teacher and champion storyteller, joined us on the Good Dads Podcast to share six of his favorite books that help children develop leadership characteristics (check out that episode of the podcast here).
Many of these classic books are out of print, but you can still find copies at your local library or used bookstore, or click through the links below to search on Amazon.
See if you recognize any from your own childhood. Bonus points if you still have the book and tag us in a photo on social media!
For more great insights and tips be sure to subscribe to our Good Dads Podcast, and check out this episode on Leadership Books.
In closing, when you click through to Amazon and buy these books to help teach your kids leadership traits you'll not only be the best dad ever, but Good Dads will also earn from qualifying purchases (at no additional cost to you!), and that helps us keep the lights on. Thanks for your support - today and always!
Anytime one of my three children gets in trouble at school, my first question to them is always, “Were you being a leader or a follower today?”
My oldest and only daughter always had an issue with talking in class. Her excuse is always that others were talking to her. I explain she needs to be the leader, and tell the others that they need to wait until class is over to continue the conversation. I don’t know that it ever actually happens, but I try to give her guidance.
When it comes to sports, I have also tried to get my daughter to be more of a vocal leader on her teams. Unfortunately, it’s just not in her nature to speak out. In some ways, she is a great leader, and doesn’t even know it. She shows up each day, works hard, and quietly puts in the work. She leads by example for anyone who is paying attention.
My middle child grew up being a follower. In elementary and middle school when kids “dared him” to do anything, he was up for the challenge. I received a call his first week of junior high school because he walked down the hallway flipping off every camera in the school. I later found out this was done as one such “dare.”
In grade school it was the same thing. We had many conversations about how to be a leader, and less of a follower at school over the years. Once he hit high school something kind of clicked, or maybe he just matured a little, but he has been so much better.
I will say my 8-year-old paid a lot of attention to all those conversations over the years. I have had very few issues with him in school, and get many compliments on his behavior, and how he likes to try to be helpful. It will be interesting to see how he develops his leadership abilities in the future.
I have learned there are many ways of showing leadership, and it's important to point out when your child demonstrates such acts, as a way of reinforcing positive behavior you hope to see more often.
3 Tips for Instilling Leadership Skills in Your Child
The goal of asking questions is to help your child reason and mature with cause and effect thinking. Try your best not to tell them what you think should happen. Focus instead on helping them develop reasoning skills.
For more great insights and tips be sure to subscribe to our Good Dads Podcast, and check out this Developing Leadership Skills podcast where two dads of toddlers join us in the studio to uncover how things they're doing everyday are helping build leadership skills in their young children.
In closing, when you click through and buy lunchbox notes to remind your kids why you love them you'll not only be the coolest dad ever, but Good Dads will also earn from qualifying purchases and that helps us keep the lights on. Thanks for your support - today and always!
Herb Cody is a husband and father of three. He is a part time Uber driver and full time caregiver of his spouse, who suffered a traumatic brain injury after an auto accident November, 2015. Herb loves football and is a St Louis Cardinals fanatic. He and his family live in Nixa, MO. Herb can be reached for questions or comments at email@example.com