Improve your and your children’s quality of life by combating insecurity
onfidence makes us feel whole, strong, powerful, and effective, whether we experience it in the kitchen, the boardroom, at the podium, or in the classroom. Feeling confident allows us to be our best selves: relaxed, certain, and competent.
Conversely, insecurity shrinks and cripples us. Our critical self-assessment ties us up in knots, diminishing our capacity to think, speak, and act. Insecurity makes our heart beat faster — not in a good way — and our palms sweat. We imagine that the world is against us and that failure is our fate.
“When my son was engaged I worried we’d never see him again. I knew how much he was looking forward to spending time with his ‘new’ family and I was afraid he’d want to be with them every Shabbos because theirs is a youthful, ‘happening’ household filled with young couples, unlike our home. Also, his in-laws have the financial means to take their kids on expensive vacations and buy them luxuries, whereas we have nothing to offer but ourselves. Why would they choose us?”
As it turned out, this mother’s fears were unfounded; the new couple remained close to both sets of parents.
Insecurity, like that of the mother in this scenario, produces anxious feelings and depressing thoughts that drain a person of happiness and wellbeing.
Like all forms of anxiety, insecurity is to some extent an inherited tendency. Some babies and toddlers are bold from birth, while others are timid and socially anxious. Nonetheless, we humans have the capacity to affect our own personalities. With conscious effort we can reduce insecurity and increase feelings of confidence, and help our children do the same.
One strategy is to recognize negative self-talk for what it is: a toxic habit. Our belief that we aren’t good enough is only a belief — an idea that we repeat to ourselves. We can change our beliefs by repeating ideas that increase our security.
“I can learn new things,” “I can make a good impression,” “I have something worthwhile to offer,” “I’m likable” are all examples of affirmations — positive statements regarding the self that can, when repeated daily, erase negative self-appraisal.
Unfortunately, negative statements to a child can also become affirmations. Therefore, parents should refrain from using them even for educational purposes. For example, it’s far more helpful to say something like, “People will want to play with you when they see how nicely you share,” rather than, “No one will want to play with you when they see that you grab all the toys.”
We shouldn’t call a child a negative name such as “lazy” or “selfish” because even if his current behavior reflects such traits, we want him to think positively of himself. “You have lots of energy, so please clean up” is far better than “You don’t do anything around here; you’re so lazy!”
Behavioral strategies for increasing security are particularly powerful. Practicing skills until we feel that we’ve mastered them — and getting our kids to do the same — is one of the best ways to increase security.
When we’re not good at conversational skills, for instance, we may become socially insecure. Therefore, an excellent way to increase social security is to study, practice, and improve communication skills. A child who has been picked on may become insecure; learning, practicing, and improving assertiveness skills may help this youngster become more secure.
Using emotional strategies to increase confidence involves acknowledging our insecure feelings, accepting them and befriending them. For example, when feeling insecure about attending a simchah alone, one might say to oneself, “Yes, it can be uncomfortable. That’s okay. I’ll be there with you to see you through it.” This self-support strategy increases feelings of comfort and security over time as one part of our personality — the confident, caring part — accompanies and assists a more frightened, vulnerable part.
Similarly, acknowledging and supporting a child’s insecurity is much more effective than trying to talk her out of it (“Yes, I know you feel uncomfortable about going to the new camp. It can be challenging to make new friends.”). Although this may sound like the parent is encouraging insecure thinking, the truth is that accepting feelings helps to release them while denying them tends to strengthen them.
Increasing security takes effort and may be the work of a lifetime. However, the resulting confidence is well worth the effort.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 651)