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.