Instill confidence in your child
Raising confident children begins from appreciating that the sense of confidence comes from within. While it is helpful for parents to believe in their children, what matters more is how children feel and believe about themselves.
Most parents want their children to be happy, compassionate, confident, have high self esteem and to excel in what they do. Amongst these desirable qualities, confidence is often one of the most important foundation for the others to manifest. So the important question is: “How do you raise a confident child?”
Raise a confident child
Raising confident children begins from appreciating that the sense of confidence comes from within. While it is helpful for parents to believe in their children, what matters more is a child’s self esteem. The source of confidence is self-belief. To discover how to instill confidence in our children, we first need to understand how their beliefs affect their behaviours.
Beliefs are generally what we accept to be true. These include assumptions, conclusions and predictions. A key feature of beliefs is that they are self-fulfilling. A belief sets up an expectation, which in turns shapes the way we perceive and experience the world. As Henry Ford once said, “If you believe you can or you can’t, you are probably right.” When a child believes that he can perform a task, he is more likely to succeed. And if he fails initially, he will try again and again till he gets it right. But when a child believes that he can’t, he is less likely to try. And if he fails after trying, he takes it as an affirmation of his belief that he can’t.
The task of raising confident children entails guiding them to grow and become more competent at meeting the demands and challenges in life. This could mean getting a young child to tie his shoelaces independently, riding a bicycle or competing in a chess tournament. Confident children feel good about themselves. They exhibit an attitude of “I can do it!” Conversely, those who lack self esteem often hold beliefs such as “I can’t” and “I’m not good enough”.
Instilling confidence in children is a step-by-step process. That means helping them gain confidence gradually over time by breaking the endeavour into several smaller steps. The idea is to make it easy for them to get started, and then build momentum from initial successes. Sometimes, a child may even do that by himself. I remember watching my six year old learn to perform a stunt by jumping off the top bunk of a double-decked bed. Part of me felt like stopping him from doing things that might get him hurt, but the other part of me that prevailed was curious to observe how he handled the process. He started by leaping from the middle rung of the ladder, and gradually moved higher up one rung at a time until he reached the bed on the top bunk. Throughout the process, I heard him chanting to himself, “I can do it. I can do it.” And true enough, he finally did it.
One of the major causes of low self-esteem is fear. Again, fear is often rooted in a belief that “I can’t handle it”. Such a belief is usually drawn from past experience. A child who had suffered a bad fall previously when learning to ride a bicycle may be too fearful to try again. As parents, our task is to help them to become aware of exactly what their fears are, and then guide them to identify what they could do about them. At times, it may turn out that a child is more afraid of being laughed at by his friends than the physical pain from falling off a bike. The former may be addressed by shifting to a more private space, while the latter by not letting off our grip on the bike until the child is ready to go solo. Whatever it is, we need to provide the necessary encouragement and support to sustain their action, and not let the child settle for the negative self-belief. Some people never got over the fears they adopted during childhood and continue to be hindered by them throughout their lives.
In anything that a child does, building confidence often involves guiding a child to progress from a novice to intermediate or advance level. It is up to us to create a safe environment for our children to try out new things. For example, in most skating schools, we often hear the instructors telling learners to fall forward when they lose control. To a beginner, “Don’t fall” or “be careful” is of not much help. Instead, learners are given protective gears and taught the basics of falling such that it does not become something to be feared. Once a child can ‘fall confidently’, he loses the fear of falling, freeing him up to channel his attention to mastering the more challenge or intricate techniques of skating.
The best form of encouragement is probably to openly display our belief in our children’s ability. Once, my child took part in a chess tournament and felt that he would not be able to defeat his opponent, who was then the top-seeded player. I asked him, “How did you know that he is undefeatable?” My son replied, “He is very good. He is ranked number one. He has won all his games so far.” My son was an underdog taking part in a national tournament for the first time, and had not played against any of the top ranking players before. I told him, “Anything is possible, and you won’t find out unless you try. I know just one boy who might defeat him, and his name is … Sean (my son)”. His face lit up in shock. He did not win the championship, but he did come in second after defeating most of the top players, including the boy he previously feared. Pay attention to where they have done well in the past and guide them to access those experiences as personal resources to help them build greater confidence. This victory meant a lot to him, and will remain a great lesson for him to challenge his assumptions and beliefs whenever he encounters self-doubts in the future.
Another important practice in building children’s confidence is to catch them doing the right things, and acknowledge them in a timely manner. It may be as simple as saying “That’s right” or “You did the right thing just now”. Just state the fact, without adding on our emotions such as “I’m proud of you when you did that.” Our pride is irrelevant to our children’s growth. What matters is that they get some form of affirmation when they did well. The opposite of that is criticism, probably the greatest destroyer of a child’s self-esteem.
Criticism has absolutely no place in raising confident children, not even constructive ones. Parents’ criticisms often persist into adulthood. Most adults walk around with a critical parent part in them, manifesting in the form of inner voices that constantly remind them of their shortcomings. The alternative to criticisms is not praises, but requests. For example, instead of criticizing a child by saying “Why are you so careless?”, tell them “Would you be more careful next time?”. When we request our children to perform or behave in a desirable manner, it helps them to move towards a positive outcome as opposed to avoiding a negative one.
In summary, below are some key points to note for raising confident children:
• Encourage them to believe in themselves. Get them used to saying, “Yes, I can do it!”
• Divide and conquer. Breakdown challenges into smaller steps and build momentum on initial successes.
• Guide them to acknowledge their fears and challenge the underlying assumptions.
• Create a safe environment for them to try new things.
• Catch them doing the right things and acknowledge immediately.
• Drop all criticisms.
• Be confident and lead by example.
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