By Silvana Clark, adapted excerpts
Sit by any playground and observe the children running, jumping, and climbing over and under the equipment. It’s not hard to notice the daredevils who soar headfirst down the slide and then leap from the hanging bars to begin twirling feverishly on the tire swing. These kids know no fear! Then there are the cautious playground participants. They slowly walk across the shaky wooden bridge. It takes them time to get the courage to slide down the fireman’s pole. What makes the difference? Could it be self-confidence?
We all want our kids to eagerly participate in school, join other kids in the playgroup, or volunteer to play on the soccer team. Yet often—as well meaning as we are—parents undermine their children’s ability to develop selfconfidence. If a preschooler runs into a room carrying a glass of water, what’s the first thing most parents say? You’ll usually hear, “Be careful, you might spill that!” instead of “It’s a good idea to walk when carrying a glass of water.”
Why encourage a self-fulfilling prophecy by telling Susie she’ll spill the water? Let’s revisit the playground. Listen carefully and you’re bound to hear some mother yelling, “Jordan, stay close by where I can see you, you might get hurt!” Yet that’s no way to build a child’s confidence! When our daughter was three, my husband found her trying to climb an apple tree in the backyard. Rather than tell her she was going to fall, he spent time showing her how to select branches for holding and standing. They climbed another ten feet, much to Sondra’s delight. The rule is she can climb trees when an adult is nearby—which has resulted in numerous father-daughter, tree-climbing expeditions.
Here are some ways that you can help young children develop confidence in themselves and their abilities.
Encourage positive risk taking
Self-confident children have the inner fortitude to try new things, even if it means a possibility of failure. Cheer on your toddler as he or she tries new skills. As a family, read a book on a topic new to all of you. Take a walk on some unfamiliar trails, just for the adventure of seeing where you’ll end up.
When my daughter was younger and assigned to bring something for Show and Tell, I encouraged risk taking. Instead of having her share the latest Barbie doll, I’d give her a theme such as “Take something you made yourself.” (We baked bread, which she
shared with the class.) “Take something that grows in the ground.” (She picked dandelions and showed their long root systems.) The teacher always commented positively about Sondra’s unique choice of Show and Tell items. In a small way, she learned she’d get positive reinforcement by doing things a bit different from the ordinary.
Let children make choices
Yes, you want your toddler daughter to go out wearing the cute red plaid skirt with the matching red sweater. She, of course, wants to wear the purple striped pants with her yellow flowered turtleneck. Why not let her?
A large part of self-confidence is the feeling that it’s great to reach out and do something out of the ordinary. All too often as parents, we say things such as, “But all the other kids have lunch boxes. Why do you want your lunch in a bag?” Give children the opportunity to make choices as long as safety and family values are taken into account.
Keep praise in perspective
There’s a tendency for parents to praise every action their child makes. There’s no need to clap and cheer if your youngster puts his napkin on his lap at dinner; that’s expected behavior. Some parents gush over every scribble their toddler makes as if each drawing belongs in a museum.
As a preschool teacher, I often saw parents excessively praise children for minor
accomplishments; yet positive feedback is effective when it is realistic. When children learn they can do almost anything and parents automatically give a standing ovation, the praise loses its meaning.
As a parent, you can indeed offer support and encouragement to your child. But you can go even a step further and allow her to explore her own abilities and revel in her own accomplishments. These tips for encouraging self-confidence can breathe new spirit into your child, instilling confidence that will last a lifetime.
Courtesy of Motivated! magazine. Used with permission. Photo by Mitch via Flickr.
We work hard to create a world of structure and predictability for our children, with routines, a regular schedule, and consistent expectations. We aim to make their lives stable, safe, and secure. As they grow up, we hope that this early experience will center them, and that they will be solid in a world of flux and change. In addition to providing children a safe and secure beginning, we also have to prepare them for the ups-and-downs of life. One way is to foster a positive attitude towards change. Following are some steps that parents can take to prepare children for change:
1. Observe your children and note how they react to the prospect of change. Is there a pattern? Do they generally dig in their heels? Do they become anxious and fearful? Or do they look forward to new experiences? These patterns and attitudes can become the modus operandi as they grow into adulthood. The goal is to change negative patterns and attitudes now, before they become entrenched.
2. Talk with your children about their feelings before they face a new situation or impending change. Depending on the children’s age, temperament, and background, they may or may not be able to discuss their feelings directly. If children have trouble articulating how they feel, approach it indirectly. Perhaps bring up a parallel example from your own life and discuss how you felt at the time. With younger children, it is
helpful to use a picture book in which the main character goes through similar experiences.
3. Discover the picture your children formed of the change. Children’s feelings about an impending change directly correlate to their understanding of what is happening. If they are telling themselves that they will move to a new neighborhood, and won’t have any friends, it makes sense that they are feeling sad and fearful. Ask them what they think the future will hold once the change occurs.
4. Look for catastrophic thinking. Are your children envisioning a catastrophic outcome, a worst-case scenario? Are they using words like never, always, everyone, and no one? “I’ll never make any friends at my school.” “Everyone already has friends.” “No one will want to be friends with me.” These statements might feel like reality to your children, but they are not. Challenge these statements and help your children develop a more balanced view of what the future may hold. If you repeatedly challenge catastrophic thinking, your children will pick up the technique and will begin to use it, too.
5. Prepare your children in case some of their fears become reality. Suggest alternative ways of making friends. If they are very shy or there are other obstacles, adjust suggestions accordingly. Also, ask the children if they can think of solutions. Teaching a child to be proactive as a response to change will have immeasurable benefits over a lifetime.
6. Allow your children to grieve their losses brought about by a change in circumstances. Acknowledge the losses as real and comfort them in their sadness. If children do not have the opportunity to express their sadness, it can heighten anxiety and possibly lead to depression.
7. When appropriate, ask children to try to envision a positive outcome to the change. Encourage them to think of all the wonderful possibilities that a change might bring. This exercise teaches them to think optimistically.
8. Call attention to their successes once the change has occurred and the children have adapted. Remind them how they’d pictured the change, and contrast it with the reality of the situation. This will help them to “reality test” future thinking.
Article originally published in Motivated magazine. Used with permission. Photo by Mashael Al-Mehmadi via Flickr.
Parents who are concerned about their children's progress at each stage of their development, as nearly all parents are, need to realize what an important role a child's self-image plays toward that end. Children with positive feelings about themselves, who believe they can succeed, are far more likely to.
Children make their first judgments about themselves and their abilities in the context of their home. Parents can find opportunities every day to develop their children's self-confidence, which in the long run will help them grow into well-adjusted, well-rounded adults.
Parents are often amazed to discover how capable and resourceful their children are in solving their own problems, with a little guidance. All children encounter problems; that is a necessary part of growing up. It is through dealing with such challenges that they learn problem-solving skills that are essential for success in life. It takes time and patience to help children learn to solve their own problems, but it is a wise investment that will pay big dividends when the children get older, their problems become more complex, and the stakes are higher.
One tendency of parents is to be too quick to fix the problem or provide the answer. That may meet the immediate need, but it hinders the learning process. It's like the saying: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for life. Teaching problem-solving is more important and more beneficial in the long run than providing solutions. Helping children work through their problems also shows that you have faith in them, which boosts their confidence and self-esteem.
No matter how much parents love their children and try to meet their needs, situations will come up that cause the children to feel insecure, and insecurity is often reflected in behavioral problems.
Bad behavior needs to be corrected, but unless the parent understands what prompted it, the correction may hinder more than help. Was the misbehavior the result of natural childish experimentation—a bad idea that seemed good or fun at the time? Or was it the result of insecurity—trying to fit in, impress, or win new friends after moving to a new neighborhood or changing schools, for example? Bad behavior is only a symptom, so correction alone is like lopping off the top of a weed; it will soon be back. Parents need to identify and go to work on the root of the problem, the underlying cause.
Depending on the age and maturity level of the child, try to help the child come to his or her own conclusions by approaching it from the problem-solving angle. That may not be easy in the heat of the moment, but remember, the goal is to correct the problem, not to punish the child. By making a clear distinction between the problem and the child and then involving the child in turning the problem situation into a learning situation, it is possible to build rather than undermine self-esteem, even in what might otherwise seem like an impossibly negative situation.
Not all children misbehave when they feel insecure; some become withdrawn or underachieve. But however the insecurity is manifested, the first step in rectifying the problem is to recognize it, and the second step is to go to work on the cause from a positive angle.
Taken from Activated Magazine. Used with permission.