Teach Kids About Personal Power

Welcome to part 5 (of 6) in the Brain Stages Emotional Quotient Series.

You can click the following links if you missed Part 1: 6 Ways to Help Kids Develop Empathy, Part 2: 5 Ways to Help Kids Become Grateful and Generous, Part 3: The Art of Listening: 3 Steps to Transform Relationships, or Part 4: Obstacle or Opportunity—Turn Setbacks into Celebrations.

I don’t know about you, but my feelings have gotten hurt on occasion. No one can make me feel bad, but sometimes it feels like it. I don’t want to give up my personal power—it just happens sometimes.

On the other hand, taking personally the insensitive things people do and say has happened progressively less, ever since I defined my “personal power” for myself in my early twenties. As I’ve gotten older, my self-concept has evolved to allow for bigger goals and taking greater risks. Many of us have done this as adults.

But imagine how kids feel when someone says something that stings, intentionally or not, and they don’t even know they have personal power.

Kids who get their feelings hurt by classmates, or anyone else, need the adults in their lives to help them define for themselves what “personal power” means.

Once children understand their personal power, they can handle things people say and do with less sensitivity. They have more courage to try new things. When they run into obstacles, they look for something to learn and a way past problems so they can move forward.

5 Steps to Teach Kids About Personal Power—And How to Use It For a Great Life

1. Before you approach kids about their personal power, make sure you’ve at least begun to define your own for yourself.

My mother couldn’t teach me about personal power because she didn’t understand her own worth. My father gave me gentle hints, but I didn’t understand them until my twenties—when my boyfriend (now-husband of 33 years) began to point out my strengths.

Before I began to understand my own power, I couldn’t help kids develop and learn to use theirs. Once I could apply my own evolving concept to situations in my life, I could pass on what I’d learned to the kids in my classroom—and years later, to my own children.

2.When your concept of your personal power begins to take shape, share it with the children in your life and give examples.

While in college, I worked at Montessori schools and told my students about my journey learning about my personal power—and wouldn’t it be fun for them to learn about theirs?

In every classroom since, I’ve shared my journey, given my students activities to help them find their own—and we’ve role-played how to keep their power when threatened.

Most kids process information in concrete ways. 1+1 = 2. They can see the relationship, so it makes sense.

The concept of personal power is abstract and thus more difficult to understand. When we relate such subjects to ourselves first, kids tend to feel less anxious and more open to applying the ideas to their own lives.

Once we begin to understand our own personal power, when someone says something less than favorable, our self-confidence can soften the blow—and even possibly help the offender.

A recent example, for me, was when a parent said: “You don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s different raising kids these days.”

I could have been stung by that comment and gotten defensive. But in my mind I thought: This parent seems stressed, and I have two wonderful adult children, lots of success in the classroom, and a ton of research under my belt. Instead I replied:

“We know parents feel overwhelmed raising and educating kids these days. That’s why Jackie and I wrote Brain Stages—to help people have less stress and more fun while raising happier, well-adjusted kids. Try out the things we’ve talked about and see what happens. What have you got to lose?”

3.Ask your child(ren) what they see as their strengths and guide them toward incorporating those strengths into their view of their personal power. 

Give a few examples of where you excel because of your interests—music, managing money, organization, creativity—wherever you feel competent (since you will have figured out your own strengths before you get to this point—see #1).

Ask your child to list and describe his interests, including what makes those things appealing and what he has learned from doing the activities he enjoys.

Talk your child through how his interests have helped him to develop skills. Be specific about what he does well.

For example, when our younger daughter was little, she was obsessed with horses. While at a tee-ball game to watch her older sister’s team play, she got restless, so I took her for a walk on a path at the park. We ran into an older gentleman riding a horse who allowed our daughter to take a slow, gentle ride on his beautiful, milk-chocolate brown bay, with a long black mane and tail. She fell instantly in love.

She checked out books about horses from the library. She drew them constantly. She wanted to know everything she could about her favorite animal.

Did she become an equine veterinarian or a dressage rider when she got older? Not at all. But before we knew it, a kid who hadn’t been interested in reading became a fluent reader. After drawing about a thousand pictures of horses that were flat and childlike, she found a book at the library on how to sketch horses, and her drawings transformed. Eventually, her writing skills became strong because she also liked to write stories about horses.

Our daughter was a super sensitive kid. Read on to find out how helping her define her personal power allowed her to enjoy school more and create positive relationships with other kids and her teachers.

Point out how defining our interests and the skills we’re gaining from those interests give us a concrete way to believe in ourselves. This activity develops self-confidence—where our personal power comes from.

Following up with the example above, our daughter hadn’t put together that she had become a proficient reader, writer, and sketcher as a result of her passion for horses—until we had the talk about personal power.

Understanding some of her skills boosted her confidence and made her realize that as a competent kid, when anyone said or did an unkind thing, she could remind herself that she had a hefty set of things to feel good about.

If someone teased her about raising her hand to give a wrong answer, for instance, she could remind herself that NO ONE is perfect, she was pretty darn good at a lot of things, and at least she’d had the guts to offer an answer to that question.

4.Help your child mentally process the mean things people say or do to decrease their pain, and more importantly, their self-doubt. 

Once your child has begun to develop his idea of his own personal power, when he comes home hurt from something that happened at school or a friend’s house, acknowledge his feelings first. Tell him you understand why he’s upset, and you wish people would think before they said and did things.

Remind him that he’s powerful in his own right, and list a few of his good qualities, talents, and skills. Then talk about why the person who hurt his doesn’t deserve to get a hold of his power, much less hang onto it.

Brainstorm the reasons why people say and do mean things—to compensate for their own fears and insecurities, greed, a general lack of manners, so self-focused they don’t even realize how they’re behaving, they want to make someone else look bad because they think it makes them look cool, and any other motivations for meanness you come up with together.

Role play how your child can mentally remind herself of her power the next time something like this happens—and she can choose not to give away her power.

Practice things your child might say to diffuse several kinds of situations so she has tools to use in the future.

A word of caution: Make sure to talk about the difference between confidence and arrogance. We want our children to develop inner strength. We also want them to be able to let go of something unpleasant someone says or does by dismissing the person’s rudeness as an act of fear or lack of confidence. We don’t want them to brag about their abilities or talents, or lord them over others. 

Merriam-Webster defines confidence as a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances.

Arrogance is defined: an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions. 

5.Ask your kids why understanding their strengths and interests will give them courage to set big goals and try new things.

This is a great conversation to have on your way somewhere together. The car, bus, or whatever transit you use is generally a non-threatening place to have such discussions, away from home yet in a familiar, neutral setting.

Encouraging your kids to discover their personal power may even inspire you to go after that thing you’ve been wanting to do. Belief in ourselves is key to turning dreams into goals and coming up with a path to achieve them.

PATRICIA WILKINSON – mother of two, taught grades kindergarten through sixth for 23 years, in both public and private schools. She earned a BA in recreation from California State University, Long Beach, and did graduate work at California State Universities, Los Angeles and Chico, to earn a Clear Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential and Language Development Specialist certificate from the State of California. Today, Trish facilitates life-changing workshops for parents and teachers. It’s amazing what can happen when years of creativity and practical experience merge with thousands of hours of brain research. She lives in Bend, Oregon, with her awesome husband, Chuck, and their rambunctious golden retriever, Alice. Visit her at http://thebrainstages.com