Breaking Through the Imposter in Us – Pt 2: The HOW

Yesterday I blogged about my thoughts on the Friday #gtchat topic The Imposter Syndrome. Your responses were so great, both on my blog and around the interwebz. I promised I’d give you some strategies today.

  • Dealing with praise: As I said in the last post, praise for the sake of praise is exceptionally damaging to children. That DOES NOT mean don’t praise. But it does mean that praise should be specific and performance oriented, something the child can link too.
  • Self Esteem:  Self-esteem is something I hear about constantly from parents and teachers. There are several ways to help build a child’s esteem, and most of it has to do with the basics of effective parenting. Children need to feel safe and loved in order to develop a healthy level of self-esteem. That means that the household needs to have clear expectations and boundaries (these create a feeling of safety), and you must hold a high positive regards for your child. That doesn’t mean you are never going to get angry – you are. But don’t confuse angry with a situation with angry with a person. Make sure you differentiate it to the child as well.
  • The nature of giftedness – As I mentioned in the other post, gifted children and adults are hard-wired in such a way that this imposter-type feeling comes very naturally. Understanding the full nature of giftedness is essential if you are going to help coach your children to understand and combat this type of thinking. You need to teach them that their brains will make incorrect connections, that their assumptions about themselves and their peers are going to be wrong at times.  Gifted kids often associated giftedness and intellect with genetics, meaning that you are born being smart. Period. It isn’t something you can learn. So, if they make a mistake on their homework or a test, they decide it MUST mean they are NOT smart. You, as the parent and primary coach for your child, need to help correct that way of thinking – constantly.

The bottom line: Feeling like a fraud is a common feeling – not only amongst the gifted, but amongst everyone at some point as we wrestle with the development of identity. Gifted individuals, feel everything at an extreme level and the inadequacies are often blown into huge proportions. The strategies listed above will help. But the most important thing you can do is help your child develop an internalized positive sense of self. Take the time to remind your child that they and they alone can determine their feelings and actions in a given situation. If they are feeling undeserving of some accolade they have received, ask them why? Have them logic it out, guiding (not directing) them to the errors in their thinking. In doing this you are helping them learn to discern between fact and fiction in their thoughts, as well as helping them learn personal strategies to combat the negative feelings that come up from time to time.

Developing a strong enough sense of self to work through periods of inadequacy, periods of feeling like an imposter, takes time and hard work.  But it is our child’s work, not ours. Our job is to coach and provide support – not do.

I’ve said this in previous posts, but I think it bears repeating…

Never do for someone else something they can do for themselves. Never

Why, you may ask….

Because it gives the message that they are incapable of doing it. Over time, this can lead to the imposter syndrome. Also, it creates an internalized feeling of inadequacy.

If, on the other hand, you have your child figure things out – guiding and supporting, but never doing – you will give them the gift of internal strength. You will teach them that they CAN and WILL overcome whatever faulty thinking they have.

And that skill will enable them to redirect those feelings of inadequacy as they surface.

What are your thoughts on this? What other questions do you have? Are there times when you have done too much for your child, or contributed to your own faulty thinking?

6 thoughts on “Breaking Through the Imposter in Us – Pt 2: The HOW

  1. Nice post, Christine! Gosh, I had so many people tell me I was incapable of doing things or going after goals, that it was quite discouraging. Luckily, I have this odd habit of not listening to the “you can’t’s” & I was able to make something of myself. Problem is, lack of confidence is a daily battle, even with all this evidence to the contrary. Good thing I keep trying, though.😉

  2. Betsy Ickes

    One thing that helps is awareness. I remember getting my first professional job. I worried that the company would find out that I didn’t know what I was doing, and they’d fire me. An HR rep who was a friend of mine told me that I had “Imposter Syndrome”, that it was common for the first six months, and that it would go away. Knowing that, after a couple of weeks of getting familiar with the work and job, the feeling disappeared.
    Letting a child or friend know that it is a common feeling when put into an unfamiliar situation helps to ease the anxiety that it creates.

  3. LOVE this line: “Never do for someone else something they can do for themselves. Never.” I think it surprises others that I barely react when my boys ask for something. If it’s something I think they can do themselves…like make themselves breakfast…my general response is usually something along the lines of “Dearest son, be thy legs brokeneth?” Ahem. Glad to hear there’s an additional reason for them doing it themselves other than mom being too tired/lazy to do it for them.😉
    I need to work on all of this.

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