9 Ways to Build Your Child's Confidence
Whether you have a toddler or a teen, helping your children build confidence is an ongoing process that continues well into adulthood. Here’s my list of confidence builders that can be applied at any age.
#1 Focus on small successes and build.
There are always opportunities for kids to succeed. Start small. Catch them doing something good and interpret it as a success. It can be something as simple as getting down from the dinner table quietly without a ruckus, or picking something up, or washing hands before dinner. Praise the behavior and point out what went well.
“I see that you washed your hands without my asking. You’re taking good care of yourself! Thanks!!”
“You put your shoes away without my asking. That really helps me get things done.“
“You took turns talking at dinner. Everyone really appreciated that.”
Take any situation that is already in the making and turn it into a success. Then build on those successes to larger situations, each time praising the behavior (not the child), and pointing out how it is beneficial. By practicing this, you are building your child’s confidence that he is can successfully contribute. He sees himself as an asset to himself and others, and his self-esteem rises. You are also encouraging more of the same kind of behavior.
#2 Curb the tendency to rescue.
This is a harder one. It’s our natural tendency as parents to want our kids to be happy all the time. It’s hard to watch them suffer or struggle. It’s easier to rescue them and alleviate their pain. The problem is of course that they don’t learn to handle problems and work through challenges. Worse, they develop the belief that someone else will solve their problems for them. On a more subconscious level, you are sending the message that they aren’t capable of solving problems, and that message stays with them.
So the question always is, when and how much should we intervene in any given situation? The rule of thumb is to provide the least amount of assistance you can to allow your child to solve the problem herself. In other words, jump start the process if need be, but then step back and let your child grapple with the problem for a bit and see what kinds of solutions she congers up.
Your jumpstart may be just asking questions that help her think about the problem. It may be actually suggesting a first step. Just do the least amount possible and allow some time and space for her imagination and creativity to kick in to work at it. Some kids are more easily frustrated than others, and if that is the case, then you can verbally affirm your faith in your child’s ability to find the solution. “I know you can figure it out. I have faith in you.”
The caveat is that if a problem is obviously over your child’s head, then you do want to alleviate her stress and offer more help. Keep in mind your child’s developmental age and assess whether this is something she should be able to do or not.
#3 Allow disappointment and failure.
This one follows from the one above. Kids need to learn that disappointment and failure are a part of life. By accepting this idea and learning how to effectively deal with them, children develop skills to handle adversity rather than resist it. By identifying, expressing, and allowing feelings of disappointment, we are teaching kids that:
- They are strong enough to weather negative feelings.
- By working with these feelings rather than acting out, they can get through them without being crushed.
- They can use these situations for learning.
Disappointment and failure always hold the seeds for future successes. By allowing kids to feel and work with adversity, they learn to be resilient, analytical, and emotionally mature.
#4 Focus on emotional intelligence.
If you’ve never read Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, I highly recommend it. The overall premise of the book is that the development of self-awareness, empathy, connectedness, and the capacity for love is a greater indicator of success than strictly intellectual capacity measured by IQ. By consistently helping our children identify and express their emotions, we greatly increase their emotional intelligence (EQ), and their chances to lead a full and satisfying life. Emotionally evolved adults have a much greater sense of and appreciation for who they are, and are more likely to be successful in relationships as well as social situations and work success. They are more connected to others, have a well-developed conscience, and experience less isolation, depression and anxiety.
As parents, we can help our children become intimately aware of their emotional life. We do this by teaching them how to identify and express their feelings, as well as solve emotional problems. These skills, when well developed, create an authentic sense of self that is based on real connectedness rather than narcissism. With emotional development and maturity comes greater self-esteem and self-control. Confidence is an outgrowth of both of these.
To get a step-by-step guide on how to pursue this, read Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman. If you haven’t already read it, also read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Both of these books are invaluable and will help you develop and raise your child’s EQ.
#5 Develop self-discipline.
This is a big one and it takes a lot of time and consistency on our parts to accomplish. That said, kids who begin developing self-discipline early on and build on it throughout childhood and adolescence, are much more prepared than those who don’t to pursue college, jobs, training or managing their lives. In the long run, it pays off for parents too because your older children and young adults can handle much more on their own without your help.
The obvious outcomes from developing self-discipline are feelings of competence and confidence. If you know you can count on yourself to follow through with your goals and manage your life, you feel in control. You are proactive rather than reactive, you meet challenges rather than procrastinate, and you take responsibility rather than blame others for your circumstances. Overall, self-disciplined and self-reliant people have a much greater chance for happiness and success.
Start young with basic self care such as teeth brushing, picking stuff up, taking care of toys, and then build as your child gets older to household chores, time management, and staying on top of homework. Teach kids early how to handle money and how to earn and save. Self-discipline is about delaying gratification to reach a goal. Being able to delay gratification is one of the most IMPORTANT skills children can learn.
#6 Finish things.
Finishing what you start is a great confidence builder. It teaches you to harness and maintain energy applied to a task or goal, to work through difficulties as they arise, to delay gratification, to be responsible, and to feel satisfied with yourself when you accomplish something. There are occasional situations where quitting is the right thing to do, but in general it is good to finish things we start, and the more we do this, the bigger our mental and emotional muscles become making it easier to succeed with any goal we set.
#7 Define and appreciate uniqueness.
Every one of us is unique. We have our own special personality characteristics and talents, and it is important to know and appreciate these. By really understanding your child’s temperament, as well as strengths and weaknesses, you can help mirror back to them who they are and what they have to offer. You can help them understand and make use of strengths while working on areas of weakness. Most importantly you can curb a tendency to compete and compare with others in ways that downgrade your child’s confidence and self-appreciation. From the standpoint of parenting, it is also helpful to really appreciate your child as an individual, even if she is very different from you.
#8 Develop good communication skills.
This one will rely mostly upon how well you can communicate yourself. If you are an active listener, can show interest when someone else is talking, empathize with others, and use words to foster real understanding, then you can pass this on to your child simply by doing all of the above with him. In addition, you can actively help your child develop these skills by using everyday communication to instruct him. Younger children mostly need to be heard, but as children get older, you can teach them how to listen carefully to others. Empathetic listening should be at the top of the list. People who listen well usually have better relationships and are more socially adept. You greatly increase your child’s social confidence by working on these skills.
#9 Get comfortable with setting boundaries.
Boundary setting is a major skill for kids in peer situations. There are three parts to this:
- Helping your child identify and develop values;
- Learning to let these values guide behavior; and
- Saying no to behaviors that don’t fall in line with values.
Learning to do this and do it well can be a lifetime struggle for some, but getting practice early in life makes it easier as adults to set boundaries that are in our best interest. A child or teen who can set a boundary and stick with it gains confidence in his ability protect himself from bullies, troublesome situations and behaviors, and peers who are destructive. Start early with this one!
There you have it! I may have missed something important and I would love to hear your ideas on the subject. Please add your comments or email me directly. Thanks!!!