What if we could help instill a feeling of confidence, or even a semblance of confidence, by teaching our kids how to present themselves as confident even when they may feel a little bit nervous?
Imagine two children walk into a room. One is looking at the floor, her arms crossed in front of her chest and speaks with a quiet but undeniable question in her voice. The other presents herself with eyes facing forward, arms casually by her sides and a warm and welcoming “Hello.”
These days, we talk about building confidence in our children by honestly praising their gifts, allowing them to fail and try again and giving them the opportunities to challenge themselves. These things are all important. However, what if we could help instill a feeling of confidence, or even a semblance of confidence, by teaching our kids how to present themselves as confident even when they may feel a little bit nervous?
Amy Cuddy, hailed for her TED talk on body language five years ago, talked about how body language and the way we present ourselves can actually help us to feel more confident and show others that we are secure in ourselves. That is, we may smile when we feel confident, but also smiling purposefully — even in moments when we are feeling a bit unsure — can make us feel more confident. When we feel more confident, we stand in a more open, grounded way that takes up more space –that is, feet apart, arms uncrossed with the front of our body facing forward. And again, when we stand in a more open, grounded way, we feel more confident.
So when helping kids to build confidence, it’s important to provide children and teens with on-the-spot tools to convey confidence. Here are some ways you can help them develop five key skills:
Focus on eye contact. When working with kids, I often joke, “Don’t stare at someone’s belly button when you’re talking — it can’t hear you!” We need to remind children to make eye contact when having a conversation with someone. It shows interest, respect and confidence. Of course, we are not trying to bore holes through someone’s head or stare them down either. Vanessa Van Edwards, author of the new book “Captivate” recommends eye contact for about 60 to 70 percent of the time to show yourself as confident, charismatic and engaging. Help your children get comfortable with looking into someone’s eyes to convey that, on the one side, they are paying attention and on the other, they stand behind what they are saying.
Show them positive posture. When we slouch, look down, close our bodies off and take up as little space as possible, we send the message that we are embarrassed, ashamed or would rather be somewhere else. It’s important to take time to teach our kids that body language can send messages that speak louder than words. In fact, it has been argued that between 65 percent and 93 percent of what we communicate comes through nonverbal cues. Help our kids shake off the negative and walk into the room with their shoulders back, eyes forward and hands by their sides, as if they are the right person in the right place at the right time. (Or, as I tell kids, “USA: Look Up, Look Smart, Look Alive!”)
Identify strong voice patterns. How our voice sounds, with its tonal nuances, register, cadence and volume can say a lot even when our words don’t. For instance, when people don’t feel confident, they may mutter, speak inaudibly or end their statements with a question mark. If you met me and I introduced myself in this way, “My name is Robyn? I give tools to parents and educators? So they can talk to kids about tough topics?” You would likely wonder if I felt secure in my own shoes, doing what I do. We need to help kids understand the power of voice patterns, both positive and negative, so how they say something doesn’t negate what they truly want to say.
Help your child get a grip on a proper handshake. Nobody likes to shake a dead fish. While the littlest kids are not often shaking hands, by the time young people get to elementary, middle and high school, opportunities to shake hands with teachers, coaches, potential employers and college scouts do arise. A weak handshake shows lack of confidence and sometimes even disgust or lack of interest. Our handshake is part of our first impression.
To help your child develop a proper handshake, here’s my Powerful GREETS System for a strong handshake that I’ve taught to thousands of children who have gone through my programs as well as my own kids:
— G — Grip should be firm but not crushing.
— R — Range between people should not be too far or too close.
— E — Eye contact should convey trust and interest.
— E — Expression should be warm, welcoming and secure.
— T — Time should be about 2 to 3 seconds.
— S — Shake should be calm and from the elbow (not the wrist).
Foster good listening skills. When we are willing to listen to another person’s perspective and ideas, we show that we are confident in ourselves. Listening says, “I am willing and able to focus on you rather than worry about taking charge and monopolizing the conversation.” So help kids, to paraphrase educator and author Stephen Covey, listen to understand rather than to reply. Play with what they hear underneath the words — the tone, energy, volume and cadence — to see if they are picking up on hidden meanings. Ask them how listening can help change their perspective, provide insight, or even, conversely, help them to feel more secure in their own views.
While we still want to provide opportunities and activities for children and teens to build confidence from the inside out, understanding body language and voice patterns can be the little things that mean a lot. Teaching these skills can help young people to develop into sure-footed kids and self-assured adults who can communicate with confidence while also communicating confidence.