The Goal of Parenting
There’s a lot of pressure in our culture be the “perfect parent,” but nobody can agree on the goal of parenting or the steps to get there. Is the goal of parenting to produce children who are competent, successful, and high-achieving? Is it to nurture children who are happy, self-confident, and well-adjusted? Is the goal to create little world changers who see the needs of others? Or, is the goal to protect our children from sickness, pain, and hurt?
Regardless of the goal, the steps to get there are the same. Just as kids need to build up their immunity in order to stay healthy, they need to build up self-efficacy in order to achieve success, experience physical and emotional wellness, impact change, overcome disappointment, and accomplish their goals.
Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to persist at a task or complete a goal. High self-efficacy is correlated with internal motivation, resilience, achievement, self-confidence, empowerment, delayed gratification, emotional regulation, and internal locus of control. Low self-efficacy, on the other hand, is associated with fear, anxiety, doubt, jealousy, depression, helplessness, and hopelessness. Self-efficacy is a mediating factor for nearly every outcome or goal parents desire for their children.
5 Keys to Self-Efficacy
There are 5 research-based strategies parents can use to increase self-efficacy.
1. Mastery Experiences
According to Bandura (1977), the most effective way to boost self-efficacy is through mastery experiences. Every time children master a task, they experience pride and joy in accomplishing a goal, which increases their confidence in their ability to complete future tasks. Encourage your children to work hard, try new things, participate in activities, and contribute to household chores. Resist the urge to step in and do your child’s homework or settle their disputes. And even though they may get hurt or make a mess, go ahead and let your toddler try to do things “All by myself!”
“Children cannot be filled by empty praise and condescending encouragement but …their ego identity gains real strength only from wholehearted-consistent recognition of real accomplishment…” (Erik Erikson).
2. Vicarious Experiences
While not as effective as personal experiences, observing a friend or sibling handle a situation or perform a task increases your child’s belief in his or her ability to complete a similar task. It’s the belief that if he or she can do it, then I can do it too, maybe even better!
In the same way, children’s beliefs about their ability can be learned vicariously through their parents (especially the same-gender parent.) My mother was always working to complete a project or accomplish a goal. She set an example to me I could do anything. Passing this belief system along to my daughters is the motivation for my blog: Projects and Parenting. I want my daughters to believe that, like their mother, they can pursue their passions and accomplish their goals.
3. Verbal Persuasion
Verbal persuasion is about encouragement and discouragement. More than just being a cheerleader, parents need to communicate high expectations and trust that their children are capable to rise up to the challenge. In study after study, when children are told that they CAN succeed, they persist through challenge to master a task. On the other hand, when children are told that they CAN’T, they are more likely to hold back or give up.
Unfortunately, discouragement is more powerful than encouragement. More telling than your words, your face, tone, and interference communicate your beliefs. Put aside your own self-doubts. Stop making excuses, rescuing, or giving in. Children are able to accomplish more than you think. Believe in them! Encourage them forward! Stop getting in their way!
4. Physiological States
Mood, emotions, and stress levels can influence how your children feel about their ability. Fear, anxiety, and depression work to fight against self-efficacy. However, this doesn’t mean they have to win. It’s not the emotions themselves, but the way children learn to interpret them that matters most.
If you notice yourself or your child feeling anxious, remember the ABCs (Adversity + Beliefs = Consequence.) Positive self-talk is an excellent tool to help challenge negative thought patterns or irrational beliefs. Avoid focusing on worst case scenarios or other factors outside your control. If you or your child struggle with negative emotions or faulty beliefs, the best advise may be to seek professional help.
5. Learning-Based Goals
Performance-based goals (outside your control) are based on performance outcomes and focus on winning awards, recognition, or positive judgments from others.
Learning-based goals (within your control) are based on competence and focus on learning new skills, mastering new tasks, and increasing understanding.
According to Carol Dweck and her research on growth mindset, children focused on performance goals show “a clear helpless pattern in response to difficulty.” In contrast, children focused on learning goals show “a mastery-oriented pattern.” When faced with failure, they increase their efforts and remain focused on the task.
Self-Efficacy & Parenting Goals
In the same way, whatever your goals for parenting, they should NOT be performance-based. Children are not projects you can complete or trophies you can put on display. Their purpose is not make you look good for others.
As parents, you CAN provide mastery experiences, set high expectations, encourage effort, and model positive behaviors, but you CANNOT control your child’s success, happiness, or outcomes in life. In fact, if you put all your focus on performance outcomes, helplessness may be the end result. On the other hand, if you step back, encourage them to try and allow them to fail, they just may gain the skills they need to reach beyond your wildest dreams.
It starts with you. Take the MindTools quiz to determine your level of self-efficacy.
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