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When I was pregnant, I received all sorts of pamphlets on the best way to diaper, feed, and burp my newborn. Curiously, I was never handed a definitive manual on the best way to parent. Turns out that’s up to the parents.

As a first-time mom, I was overwhelmed researching all the different parenting styles out there, so I decided to start simple. I focused on aspects I wanted to support early on, and helping my son establish a healthy confidence in himself topped the list. I just needed to come up with a plan in which I felt confident.

Studies show having a predictable schedule in infancy helps kids develop self-confidence. So, I added that to my plan only to discover that having a baby means having plans change. My idea of a perfect schedule faded with the setting sun when my little guy was diagnosed with colic. This mysterious condition affects infants from 6 weeks to 3 months, and during this time they experience periods of extreme distress. My newborn screamed most evenings like a tween watching a horror movie, so a consistent routine eluded us until his colicky phase ended.

When I finally set up a steady routine, I saw how giving my kid freedom within a predictable set of boundaries made him feel oh, so comfortable. Over time his self-esteem grew along with his diaper sizes, and I wanted to find more ways to encourage these confidence-building feels. That gave me an idea — but like my kid — it would take time for this plan to grow.

“Mom, I’m sad,” my almost 3-year-old said through tears. Even though I’d given him warnings we’d be leaving the playground, saying goodbye was too much. He burst into tears. However, instead of throwing a tantrum or hiding behind the sliding board to steal extra time, he stayed with his truest of feelings.

“I see you’re sad,” I began gently, “why are you sad?” As best as he could, my son explained that he didn’t want to stop having fun. I told him I understood and that feeling sad was totally OK. I asked if he wanted to “cry it out” and he said he did. So, I held his hand and waited. We took a couple of deep breaths together, and still sad but more centered, he left without screaming or trying to take the merry-go-round with us. My cunning confidence-building plan might be working. He was figuring out how his big feelings worked and learning how to feel comfortable with them.

As my son moved out of his toddler years and into his grade school years, I noticed how validating and encouraging his emotions helped to make phases like the Terrible Two’s not so terrible, and his Threenager year was filled with less angst. These days he comes home from school telling me how he felt and why he felt it — he’s learning how to be confident in speaking this truth.

Of course, no parenting plan can deflect every meltdown or deflated day, but together, we talk through it and find a solution — and that high-fiveable problem-solving moment grows his smile bigger than when he’s holding his favorite dessert.

My friends with kids were right when they said “parenting is about the long game.” Sometimes you make a plan, and it takes a while to see if the positives are positively happening. Or one idea starts and then another takes over because there’s no one ideal instruction manual for parenting. Studies show helping kids to identify and express their different feelings helps them feel happier and more confident. My study is still pending, but I’m happy to report I’m already seeing the confidence-building benefits.

P.S. Read how horseback riding lessons can help instill confidence and responsibility in your child.

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