One of the greatest temptations with a smaller-than-average child – for parents, teachers and other children alike – is to shield them from anything to seems too dangerous. After all, they are still “so small”. Yet their smallness belies their abilities: physically, mentally and socially. Rather than protecting them from perceived risks, nurturing your child’s self-confidence is the best way to encourage a smaller-than-average child to not only stand up for themselves in the playground, but also to be responsible, as is appropriate for his age (rather than his size). No matter what your child’s size, it is his social skills, social awareness and self-confidence that will ensure he is resilient, regardless of what peers, teachers, or other parents may say or do.
Seven ways to encourage resilence:
1. Believe in your child’s competency, so that he will too. When you believe your child to be safe and capable, your child will see himself the same way.
2. Encourage him to join in all the games, even if he thinks they are too difficult for him at first. After all, he may not be able to slam-dunk in a game of basketball, but he just might be able to land a perfect shot from further afield (with a little practice).
3. Voice any fears that you think he might have, but with positive reinforcement to help him rethink his own ability. For example, if you can see he is nervous and hesitant about climbing a tall ladder to the slide, say ‘It’s a very tall ladder, isn’t it, but just take one rung at a time and keep looking up. I will be here at the bottom watching out for you.’
4. Look for your child’s signals – if he really is feeling overwhelmed, he may need someone to step in. But as far as possible, let him manage the situation himself, as this will empower him in the future.
5. Encourage the development of a wide range of skills – that way he will feel capable in many different situations.
6. Be ready to respond to any real needs your child has, but avoid stepping in to do everything for him. If he feels reassured that he can reply on you to consistently respond, then your child will be willing to explore the world without feeling anxious and nervous.
7. Once he is old enough, teach him how to reassure others – adults and peers – that he is old enough to participate in activities that they may think he is too small to do. This will help him avoid feeling overly frustrated at the behaviour of adults who may make allowances for him or other children who may be trying to protect (or bully) him. This will also empower him to take control in these situations rather than simply putting up with being sidelined inappropriately.