Simple messages can make profound differences.
Duke University’s legendary basketball coach, Mike Kryzyzewski, is a big fan of the statement I believe in you. He says, “Those four words can mean the difference between a fear of failure and the courage to try.”
Tell your child I believe in you as many times, and in as many ways, as you can. Every kid needs to feel accepted and valued. He constantly wonders about himself and wrestles with competing self-perceptions—his abilities versus his inabilities. Ideally, the people closest to him will help tip the scales in this internal battle.
The thought process works something like this: “My dad believes in me—so I should believe in myself.”
A child propped up by such confidence will face the inevitable challenges of life with resolve. Such was the case with Wilma Rudolph. Early in life, doctors told her mother that, due to a debilitating disease, Wilma might not walk again. Wilma decided to embrace a different prognosis. “My mother told me I would, so I believed my mother.”
And that belief became the foundation that later enabled her to become a U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist in the 100, 200, and 400 (relay) meter races.
One of my favorite illustrations of this principle comes from Ben Zander, conductor of Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and a professor at the New England Conservatory of Music. He believes grand potential is released when belief replaces reasons for self-doubt, which is why he gives all his students the grade of “A” at the beginning of the course. Their first assignment is to write him a letter, dated at the end of the term, which explains the story of what the student will have done to earn this high mark. His philosophy: “This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.”
Give your child an A and watch him or her live into the possibilities you’ve inspired.
This topic came up one day over lunch with my friend and mentor Dick. I asked him what advice he had for me about raising a teenager—after all, my son’s thirteenth birthday was quickly approaching, and I’ve heard that parenting challenges change when the teen years arrive. “Expect the best from him, and tell him that you do,” Dick said. “Then watch him chase it to make it happen.”
Then Dick got more specific. “For instance, many parents joke about how awful they expect their children to be as drivers. Your son as a driver might seem a long way off, but it’s not. So instead of making light of him, take any opportunity you have to tell your son that you believe he’ll make an excellent driver some day, and give him a reason or two why. Take that same logic about predicting his success and apply it to as many situations as you can.”
Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison says, “Long before I was a success, my parents made me feel like I could be one.” Her observation is a powerful one—and one we can put to use with kids of all ages.
Many of our country’s incredible educators know how to inspire life-changing confidence. We can learn (and apply) lessons from how they share simple messages that make profound differences. Let’s start with a Kindergarten teacher in Indiana, who begins class every day with a three-statement, repeat-after-me exercise:
“I am kind.”
“I am smart.”
“And I am brave.”
Can words really make such a big difference? Yes.
Pastor and author Jack Hayford tells us why: “It is perhaps among the most humbling features of God’s ways with humankind that He confers upon us a staggering degree of power (and responsibility) in the capacity of our words to cause things to happen.”
Our world desperately needs more kind, smart, and brave people. So, what words will you tell your children?
*Portions of this column come from David’s book, Words Kids Need to Hear
© 2021 David Staal. All rights reserved. davidstaal.net