Building enduring confidence in our kids is not easy. They know nothing about the world (compared to us parents), they are physically awkward initially, then just when they are getting more comfortable with their bodies puberty hits and it starts all over again. Hormones wreak havoc with what we adults refer to as logical thinking and social pressures are everywhere. Add school and grades on top of all this and you can see how our kids might feel knocked down or powerless fairly often. This brings us to a powerful weapon in our educational arsenal, the to do list!
Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are the tough days for our 11 year old son. He gets home from school and on Monday he has swimming and Wednesdays and Thursdays he has soccer. There is no time in between school and the activities for him to do homework so dinner, shower/bath and homework all have to happen between 6:00pm when he returns and 9:00pm (ish) when he is supposed to go to bed. He is rushed, there is usually yelling involved and I am sure he often heads off to bed feeling cranky and depressed.
Enter the to do list. When he arrived home from school the other day I wrote out a simple schedule (see Exhibit A). I sat next to him and handed him the pen and told him to write down what he needed to do and when he expected to do it. He grumbled at first but finally wrote out the different assignments he had for that evening including a shower (particularly important on soccer days). At first he just listed them all between 7 and 9 but I made him add in the times he expected to start each one. By then it was time to head off to soccer and he gratefully escaped from his annoying father.
That evening (after I reminded him about his list) he finished everything with a little time to spare. Getting his work done with a minimum amount of fuss is great of course and learning time management skills will be useful no matter what he ends up doing with his life. But, I think there is more. He now has a tool that gives him control. He is a master of time and with that comes a certain amount of confidence in his ability to get things done. If this relatively simple and universal tool becomes a habit, he will be less intimidated by big projects at school (and work), confident that he can tackle new problems by breaking them down into smaller ones on his list and in all likelihood be more productive.
It would be nice if the to do list guaranteed that our kids would all grow up as confident, secure adults but unfortunately it is not that easy. Self confidence is influenced by everything around our kids; families, friends, physical appearance, grades, luck, etc. The to do list works because it is a tool that helps our kids achieve something and feel good about themselves. They write it, they are responsible for it and therefore it is solely their accomplishment. Remember to praise their hard work and independence when they are finished as well.