NORTH CALDWELL, NJ - Child development specialist Robyn Silverman, Ph.D., delivered a seminar on “Raising Strong, Positive Leaders” at the West Essex High School auditorium Tuesday night.

Silverman started by relating an anecdote from her first graduate seminar at Tufts University.

“The instructor kept saying ‘We are failing our young people. We need to empower them,” Silverman said. “A young man stood up and said ‘You need to provide us with the tools to empower ourselves.’”

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“Kids want so badly to be independent.”

An integral part of Silverman’s presentation was the idea that children need to develop a sense of self before they can become leaders. Silverman noted that many children and teens are preoccupied with their flaws or the sense that they lack something in relation to their peers, whether it be popularity, looks or athletic ability.

“A lot of children think in terms of ‘I’m not pretty enough’ or ‘I’m not muscular enough,’” Silverman said. “But when you can define yourself, everyone else’s definition of you doesn’t matter.”

The presentation was interactive, with Silverman asking parents in the audience what single word or characteristic they wanted their children to embody. One parent answered “empathy,” another “strength” and another “confidence.”

The first step to self-identifying, according to Silverman, is to identify a child’s strengths and dispensing with emotional baggage, what Silverman referred to as “dirty laundry.” She also noted that all strengths are not celebrated equally or recognized as quickly.

“We put a lot of emphasis on academics and athletics, understandably so,” Silverman said. “The creative child who takes great pictures not get as much recognition as the A-student or captain of the team.”

Setting realistic, measurable and attainable goals is the next important step in self-identification. Silverman brought her niece to the front of the crowd to illustrate an exercise in which a child visualizes exactly how they will feel when they reach their goal. For Silverman’s niece it was running a six-minute mile. Silverman’s niece visualized the grass, the outdoor air, seeing her gym teacher and other runners in front of her.

Pushing past barriers such as procrastination and pessimism is also important.

“Girls, especially, tend to be perfectionists and beat themselves up,” Silverman said.

Venting and clearing those emotions is critical. Silverman said she likes to give her children two or three minutes of “whine time” in which they can disengage from the burdens of their life. Moving past the burdens into accountability is important.

The final part of the presentation detailed how who the people a child associates with can mold their life. Silverman cited mentors and a nurturing inner circle of friends as two critical factors.