A Mouse's Guide To Mighty Kids
Although mice are very small creatures to look at, they are not to be underrated and are actually very strong in their own way. They may appear to be a little timid, but they are very observant and love to explore their environment and learn new things. Even though they sometimes feel scared, they accept fear and don’t let it stop them from doing what they need to do to survive and thrive. They are very resourceful and trust their instincts. Like everyone, they do make mistakes, but they learn from them and adapt how they do things. This makes them very clever and very resilient.
This article considers some of the lessons that we can learn from the mouse to help you nurture confidence and resilience in your children. It includes recognising emotions and choosing what to do with that information, self-belief and the ability to trust themselves and learn from mistakes.
Emotions and Choice
The human brain is not fully developed until around our mid-twenties. This includes their ability to recognise and deal with emotions. Often children don’t understand their emotions and so are unable to express them positively, which can lead to frustration, tantrums, tears, overwhelm or sometimes withdrawal and escapism.
In order to be able to deal with their emotions, children need to be able to put a name to that feeling. This is where you can really help them. When you can see that your child is experiencing a heightened emotion, check that you are calm yourself, then empathise with the child by naming the emotion and acknowledging why they might be feeling that way e.g. “I can see you are feeling afraid because something new is happening and you don’t understand it.” Seigel and Bryson (2011) summarise this technique well by using the phrase:
“name it to tame it”
Once a child understands what the emotion is that they are feeling they can start to apply some strategies to help them deal with that emotion e.g. for fear, they might talk through their fears and think of other times when they have been afraid, then later found out that there was nothing to be afraid of. It might help to explain that everyone gets scared, sad or angry at times and that it is natural to feel that way. In some cases you might want to explain a little bit about why we feel that way, e.g. fear is our mind’s way of trying to keep us safe.
One important thing to explain though, is that whilst emotions are natural, they can still choose how to respond to them. They might feel scared, but they can choose to face that fear for the benefits that await as a result; they might feel angry, but choose to walk away and calm down, rather than hurt someone, or making others feel sad or angry etc. This is a very important lesson that you can help your children learn from a young age. Everybody feels scared at times, but the most successful people are those who are able to overcome that fear. For more information around fear see Face Your Fears With The Lion.
Self-belief is an inner confidence and trust in yourself. It comes from being able to recognise and build on your successes and experiences and from valuing yourself as a person. By helping your children to recognise and appreciate their strengths and to value their individuality you can really help them to develop their self-belief. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, but that doesn’t make anyone better or worse than anyone else. Whilst a lion is strong and fearless, a mouse is quick and agile.
You can help your child develop self-belief in a similar way to helping them develop self-esteem (see also Help Your Kids Find Their Tiger Power), but also by letting them know that you believe in them. It’s so much easier to believe in yourself, when you know that others believe in you too and are there to help you back up when you fall.
Another key skill to develop in children is to trust themselves and what they know to be true. Early on in childhood this may come from a sense of knowing right from wrong and having the confidence to say “no” to things they don’t want to do, or know to be wrong, even if that thing is just wrong for them.
Learning to say “no” requires discernment, respect and understanding from adults. If they can’t feel confident saying “no” to family members, it’s unlikely that they will feel comfortable saying “no” to their friends and peers. Understanding the reason for their refusal can help you to determine whether they just need encouragement and coaxing to address a fear or anxiety; reasoning and an explanation if it’s unsafe or unacceptable for them to refuse; or whether they are actually making a reasonable choice and respecting that decision is not going to cause anyone any harm.
Learning From Your Mistakes
Learning to fail and try again is another way to develop self-belief. Understanding that learning is a process of getting things wrong and trying again is a great way to teach children resilience and give them an understanding that they can and will get better with practice.
Many children are afraid to get things wrong and as such are afraid to try anything new. This could be learned inadvertently from adults around them e.g. they’ve seen adults cursing when they make mistakes, or they’ve been told to hide their mistakes e.g. by rubbing out mistakes in their home or school work. It could also be because an adult or peer has laughed at them for making a mistake at some point, and they’ve taken it to heart.
A good way to counterbalance this is to teach children to accept that mistakes happen and that sometimes it’s ok to laugh at your mistakes. The best way to teach this is to model it yourself. Laugh about your mistakes with them and laugh about their mistakes with them. The best way to learn is through making mistakes, whether it’s a child making a spelling mistake, a driver taking a wrong turn, or a mouse wandering near a hawk’s nest and narrowly escaping. Once you know the wrong way, you’ll choose differently next time.
By supporting your children to recognise and manage their emotions, teaching resilience in the face of failure and by helping them learn to value and believe in themselves, you are arming them with the power to become happy, confident and successful adults. A mighty place to be.
For further tips around supporting your children to develop emotional wellbeing and resilience, download my free guide 'How to give Your Kids A Happy Head Start.'
Seigel, D.J and Bryson T.P (2011) The Whole Brain Child – 12 Proven Strategies To Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. Robinson