By Vicki Little
Wouldn’t it be amazing if every Labor and Delivery department handed out a manual on how to raise your children? Undoubtedly one of the early chapters in that manual would be titled “How To Give Your Child Confidence.” Our children would all be happy, well-adjusted individuals who exuded self-confidence and had great self-esteem. But parenting isn’t that easy. So we just have to wade through the murky waters on our own. Logic would guide us to believe that we should praise our children for everything they do – big or small — and that we should shelter them from trying too many hard things so they don’t get hurt by failure. Then we should remind them of how amazing they are every day. But this is actually the opposite of what we should be doing.
According to Kidshealth.org, self-esteem is the result of experiences that help a child feel capable, effective, and accepted. They feel capable when they can learn to do things for themselves and take pride in what they have accomplished. They feel effective when they see the good results of their hard work. They feel accepted when the good feelings they have towards themselves are validated by their parents or caregivers. Sounds great on paper, but what does that look like when we actually try to put it into action? Here are five ways you can boost confidence in your child.
“We don’t hit our friends Sally Sue, but that was an amazing left hook!” Okay, so maybe we aren’t praising everything to that extreme, but praising things that kids are expected to do or appreciating when kids do the bare minimum is actually doing our children more harm than good. If your children are constantly told they are amazing, they may get discouraged when they run into something that is difficult, or when they can’t keep up with previous performance (such as straight As). You should certainly praise your children when they give their all during an athletic game or assignment, and definitely give kudos to your child when they face life’s unfairness with grace and understanding. But you shouldn’t give praise when your child shares with their sibling or sets the table for dinner – although a thank you is a good way to encourage continued good behavior. Children will begin to recognize “false praise” and will end up feeling coddled and may be nervous to risk harder efforts if they don’t feel they can accomplish them.
Encourage them to take some risks.
These risks don’t need to be huge. Encourage your child to try out for a talent show, play a sport, ask a new friend to hang out, or even just read a challenging book they might like. Help them to push themselves outside of their comfort zone and learn how to deal with any situation that life brings their way. Maybe they won’t get on the team, maybe they will. Either way will be a learning experience for them.
Let them fail.
And when they do, let them know that your love for them is unconditional and not based on their successes. When you let them fail, accomplishments mean so much more because they had to work for it. If you are always saving them – even by doing something as small as bringing forgotten homework to school – then they start to think that they can’t do something. Further, kids need to learn that anger, sadness, and disappointment are just as natural as happiness, contentment, and excitement. It will benefit them greatly to learn to deal with all of these different emotions.
Allow them to make their own choices.
It is hard to learn to make good choices when you are never given the opportunity to do so. Of course, kids don’t realize at a young age that chocolate ice cream is NOT a good choice for dinner, so it is important to make the decisions age appropriate. When they are younger, give them a few options from which to choose and grow from there. The more consequences they experience from their own choices (both good or bad), the more confident they will be in their decisions in the future. Not only that, but they will have the knowledge to make better choices.
Give them independence.
It is easy to feel secure in the safety of your parent’s rules and boundaries. But eventually, our kids are going to have to venture further and further out on their own and become independent. Give them age-appropriate independence so that they can test their limits and strengths and make mistakes that they can learn from – while the mistakes are still little. Then they will have confidence in their decisions, and they won’t be as inclined to fall into the traps of peer pressure.
Also, remember to give yourself some grace as well. This parenting thing isn’t easy, and we are bound to make a few mistakes along the way. Just let your child know you love them unconditionally, and that you are learning as you go. They will appreciate your honesty.
Vicki Little is a preschool teacher with two children. A Colorado native, she spends her time writing, sitting in the bleachers for her daughter’s gymnastics, and engaging in spirited debates with her son. In her free time…well, she is still waiting for some of that.
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