Q How can parents encourage their children to develop self-confidence and engage in healthy social relationships, especially in the context of children, including young adults who are inclined towards introversion?
What we describe as our personality or its precursor, our temperament, is determined even before we are born, through our genetic make-up. However, our interactions with the environment play a major role in how these characteristics develop. Thus, both nature and nurture appear to be important in determining who we become.
For a child, a major portion of these social interactions will be with their parents. Decades of research has shown that children who have a secure attachment tend to be more confident in who they are and in their interactions with others.
When parents are responsive to their children when they are in distress and in need of comforting, protection and dealing with their feelings, a child feels secure. If the parents themselves are unable to control and deal with their own feelings, they become reactive and may respond according to their own needs instead of the children’s. Thus, controlling our emotions as parents and being aware of our own emotions is extremely important.
Understanding the cues of the child and knowing what the child really needs is also imperative. For instance, protecting a child when he or she wants to explore something or is being deliberately naughty will not be helpful. Watching anxiously over a child is not likely to give the child a sense of security or confidence!
This theory also suggests that whenever possible, we as parents should follow the child’s lead. We should not only be responsive to the child when necessary but take charge, so that the child does not have to take charge of situations by himself or herself. Both aspects are needed for a child to feel secure.
When a child feels secure, the part of their brains involved in social and emotional development benefits in the best possible way. These templates of our early interactions become the foundation of how we interact with others. Children with such experiences learn to be responsive and empathetic towards others in a healthy way.
For older children, being given plenty of opportunities to interact socially is needed. Parents displaying the same social qualities they want their children to have is also important. After all, many parents will have experienced how children pick up on how they respond to situations and start responding the same way!
Children can also be affected by setbacks in relationships like losing a best friend, being bullied by peers, or in the case of older adolescents, romantic relationships. Here again, having a supportive network of friends and family to fall back on is helpful. This can help children survive and also thrive, rather than developing a sense of being a victim in social situations.
Again, as the child grows older, the influence of peers increases.
They are also exposed to more complicated social problems. A parent being able to talk to and help their children work through these complex problems is important to their social development. Thus, having the skills to disentangle oneself from a peer group engaging in bad behaviour and knowing how to do this without being a victim or hurting the feelings of others is as important as being able to solve a complicated mathematical issue!