There are 8 million kids in Canada and they all have something in common – their rights! But there are many children and youth who don’t know this truth. A poll conducted last year by Abacus Data, and commissioned by Children First Canada, revealed that 44% of children (aged 12 to 17) are not aware of their rights. And 73% don’t know what to do if their rights are violated. The first step to empowering kids is to educate them about their rights, self-worth and value as young citizens.
Here are some ways to help kids develop confidence and resilience from an early age:
1. Let kids know their voice matters
Children deserve to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives. This is something that can happen on a daily basis by giving children the opportunity to make choices (e.g., what to wear, which snack to add to their lunch, etc.). This doesn’t mean that you are putting kids “in charge”, but it does mean that kids are invited to be a part of the decision processes that relate to their lives. It is also healthy to ask for your kids’ opinions and views on topics as part of your regular conversations.
2. Teach kids about personal boundaries
One way to help empower children is to start with the one area where they should have complete autonomy: their bodies. Children and youth need to know from an early age that no one has the right to harm them physically or abuse them. They need to know that there are personal boundaries that no one is allowed to cross and that they have the right to be protected. To help uphold this right, parents and caregivers should avoid forcing kids to show affection (i.e., hugs and kisses) to others if they are not ready or willing to do so. Kids need to know that they have control in this area.
3. Do not hide your feelings
Parents play an important role in helping children learn how to interact with others and to process emotions well. That’s why processing your own feelings in healthy ways instead of hiding them is a powerful teaching method.
Children need to see their parents when they are both happy and sad. Burying these emotions will only teach them to do the same. The same is true about conflict. Resolving conflicts in front of them rather than bottling up anger or lashing out in unhealthy ways will go a long way in helping them to control their own emotions.
4. Tell kids it’s OK to make safety judgments
Another way to help empower kids is to give them the ability to make judgments concerning their experiences and surroundings. Educating your child about “safe” people and situations will help them feel more empowered to live in the world. There are moments when a child doesn’t feel safe, and it’s important for them to be able to act on that.
Encourage children to be alert and trust their intuitions. Making safety judgments, along with having personal boundaries, will help kids to feel more secure when interacting with others.
5. Help children to understand their challenges
Encouraging children to acknowledge when they need help or assistance will empower them to be more confident and not ashamed of their challenges. This also helps them to feel more at ease with doing something to address the difficulties they face. But the first step is to talk with your children about their specific challenges. It’s not uncommon for kids to feel like something is unfixable in their lives if parents refuse to talk about it. It’s important to give children the resources needed to empower them and feel in control of such challenges.
6. Encourage daily routines
The word “routine” should get more credit than it does. While the fun-loving and whimsical types might argue that routines are boring, routines can be valuable in many ways. This is especially true when it comes to helping children to feel empowered. Routines provide the structure that children need to develop basic life skills, and they create space for kids to take ownership. Routines help children to organize, plan and schedule. Through this framework, kids gain valuable pathways to learning and accomplishment.
7. Teach kids to dream big
When your kids come to you with big ideas, it’s important to let them dream and don’t be quick to dismiss their thoughts. Kids who feel like their parents believe in them, are more likely to believe in themselves and have confidence in their capabilities. When it’s safe to do so, allow children to take risks and experience things for themselves, too. Kids will achieve much higher levels when they understand the potential you see in them.
Empowering children matters
Children and youth are leaders today and will be the leaders of tomorrow. It’s important that the caring adults in their lives help them to develop healthy self-esteem, confidence and resilience. Empowering children today helps to ensure a better future.
Visit our Young Canadians’ Parliament page to learn more about how Children First Canada is empowering children and youth to be a strong voice for their generation.