Contributed by community member, Karen Banes.
The psychologist Albert Bandura believed the greatest gift we can give our children is self-efficacy. The quality that helps them feel like capable, competent, human beings. The feeling that they can find solutions to their problems, master new skills and achieve their goals, no matter how many set-backs they face along the way.
At the heart of self-efficacy is mastery, the feeling we get when we learn to do something new and do it well. Children who develop a strong sense of mastery are happier and experience less anxiety, so how do we support our kids as they develop this quality?
Support and reward skill building
When kids are very young they’re constantly skill building, and we’re always praising them for it. We tell them how clever they are to tie a shoelace or build a tower of blocks.
As kids get older we tend to take new skills for granted, and at school there’s often more focus on the negative side of not mastering new skills, or not mastering them when the school curriculum says they should.
Encourage activities that help your child build his skill-set, in and out of school. Praise him for his mastery as well as the results of it. Make it clear you value his determination and dedication, and not just because they resulted in a good grade or a trophy.
Achievement is a natural result of mastery but they’re not the same thing. As Edward Hallowell puts it in his book The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, “Mastery is a feeling. Achievement is a benchmark.”
Seek out skills your child admires and help him master them
Mastering a skill you admire is particularly effective at boosting confidence and self-belief. At seven years old, my son decided rock climbing was really cool. He thought the kids on the rock wall looked like Spiderman scaling the side of a tall building. So I enrolled him in a rock climbing program.
Find something challenging but achievable
My son was slightly nervous about heights, so rock climbing was a challenge for him, but he wasn’t so scared that it would prevent him from climbing, which would have created a sense of failure. Help your child find things she would love to do, but that will involve her overcoming some small fear or insecurity, and the feeling of mastery is multiplied.
Look for non-competitive challenges
Competitive sports can produce a feeling of mastery, but activities where the only objective is to improve on your own previous attempts are even better. Constantly creating a new ‘personal best’ leads to a feeling of consistent improvement and creates a strong sense of mastery.
My son noted which panel on the rock wall he climbed to on each attempt and always climbed a little higher next time. When he reached the top of the first one, he asked if he could try the other (harder) rock wall. He never noticed what the other climbers were doing.
Build your children’s sense of mastery slowly, day-by-day, and give them the gift of self-efficacy.