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September 30, 2014 / 6 Tishri, 5775
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Which Are You?


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I watched them tear a building down;
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a mighty heave and a lusty yell,
They swung a boom and a side wall fell.

I said to the foreman, “Are these men skilled
As the men you’d hire if you had to build?”
He gave me a laugh and said, “No indeed!
Just a common laborer is all I need.
And I can wreck in a day or two
What it took the builder a year to do.”

And I thought to myself as I went my way,
“Just which of these roles have I tried to play?
Am I a builder who works with care
Measuring life by the rule and square,
Or am I a wrecker as I walk the town
Content with the labor of tearing down?”

When I read this anonymously written poem, I immediately thought about self-confidence. Do you work brick by brick to build your own self-confidence and those of everyone around you or do you use a wrecking ball to knock it all down? Granted, it is a lot quicker to wreck things than it is to build them well.

But, self-confidence is essential to a healthy, happy life. Self-confidence is needed in order to create meaningful friendships, apply for competitive jobs, and parent our children with assurance and ease. Perhaps the most important reason we need to believe in ourselves is that if we do not, we will teach our children that it is okay to put themselves down as well. This can ultimately lead to a rejection of self.

First, let’s discuss how to build your own self-confidence.

Focus on the positive. Obviously, no one is perfect, but every one of us has positive qualities that we can build on. Even if overall you are not happy with who you are – you can definitely come up with qualities that you appreciate about yourself. Perhaps you are a wonderful organizer, a great listener or an excellent cook. Make a list of the things you like about yourself and schedule activities that bring out those qualities during your day.

Some examples:

If you are a wonderful organizer: Volunteer to run a fundraiser for your shul or school.

If you are a great listener: Visit the elderly and listen to their stories about the past.

If you are an excellent cook: Cook meals for the new mothers in your neighborhood or for the less fortunate.

Engaging in activities that you feel competent in (and that are additionally helpful to others) will help build your self-confidence.

Treat yourself. Every now and then, remind yourself that you are worth it. Depending on what you can afford (both time and money), give yourself something you love: a massage, an hour of babysitting to read your book quietly, a fast walk outside to clear your mind, or an extra two hours of sleep. Treating yourself will signal to your inner “wrecking ball” that you believe you have value.

Once you begin to work on your own self-confidence, it might be time to focus on your children as well. Do they say things like, “I am so stupid” or “I can’t do anything right”? If so, they could use some help figuring out how to build themselves up.

Child psychologists and educators often suggest the following steps:

Avoid labels. Instead of saying, “You are so smart.” Say, “When you figured out how to read that sign without any help, I was so impressed with how much you have learned.” Or, instead of “You are a kind and sweet girl” say, “Remember the time when your sister Faigy was crying and you went over and sang her a song to make her feel better? That was so nice of you.”

Engage in their strengths. Just as you should do for yourself, talk to your child about the things she feels she does well and then help her do those activities regularly. For instance, if your daughter is artistic, sign her up for an art class after school or on Sundays. If your budget does not allow for afterschool activities, consider investing in some art supplies that will be hers alone so that she can feel special.

Encourage friendships. See if your daughter is interested in having one friend over at the house. Of course, do not push too hard because this can be a painful subject for children who lack self-confidence. And, make sure to invite only one friend at a time so that no one is excluded!

Spend alone time. Especially in large families, children can often feel like they get lost in the shuffle. This is normal (and sometimes inevitable), but can often lead to children feeling as if they are unworthy of attention. To this end, make a concerted effort to schedule a half hour of alone time per week with each child. You need not play a game – you can actually go to the supermarket together or do another errand – but being alone with you will provide each child with a sense of self-worth. “Wow, Mommy and I are going to the supermarket alone!”

Self-confidence is a family affair. Family is the first place we decide who we are, and observe and practice how to be that way. If children decide that they are lovable and capable, they are building positive self-confidence. But, first we need to decide that we are happy in our own skin. We must stop tearing down our buildings and begin to build them, one brick at a time.

About the Author: An acclaimed educator and education consultant, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation,, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@verizon.net. Visit her on the web at rifkaschonfeldsos.com.


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