How to raise a confident child? This is a question that I hear from so may parents each year.
If we look at what being confident means for children it’s the ability to see their own strengths and positive attributes and know they can rely on themselves. Happiness, of course, can mean many things but dictionaries state it is showing pleasure, feeling cheery, being joyful, carefree etc.
Children might feel some of these feelings some of the time but they couldn’t possibly feel them all of the time. Unfortunately many parents measure their parental success based on how confident and happy they think their children are feeling.
Happiness is a fleeting state of mind – rather than a place that we can reside permanently. It is a consequence and not a goal.
I think there is too much emphasis on being happy. Many parents believe that their child’s happiness is directly linked to doing things that they enjoy. This can mean that parents work really hard to ensure that their children don’t participate in things that cause distress or discomfort.
We feel happy when we are doing worthwhile activities, overcoming difficulties and we have meaning in our lives. It’s through meeting life’s challenges and finding purpose in the things we do each day that we are able to feel happiness for a brief period of time.
Have you ever sat and watched your child try to master a musical instrument (this can be painful for us at times!) or observed your child as they become part of a sports team?
I have listened to my own kids tell me in surprise “I’m not the best player” or “I don’t sound very good”. At these times many parents tell their kids that they are brilliant and I believe this really is doing some harm. Kids need to know and experience not being the ‘best’ and see themselves as being good enough and accepting who they are.
I can hear parents groaning now – but what about their self-esteem! Self-esteem in my opinion is very over-rated, it is how we evaluate ourselves and our worth and it is how we judge ourselves. We cannot all be great at everything, we are going to have some successes and some failures – that is part of life after all. If self-esteem is key then when we do well we evaluate ourselves as ‘good’ and when we do not succeed, come first, or excel we judge ourselves as ‘not good enough’.
So maybe self-confidence and self-acceptance are really the keys to feeling happiness on a more regular basis.
Self-acceptance is about seeing ourselves as we really are, being realistic, knowing our strengths and our weaknesses and being okay with both. Self-acceptance is vital for good mental health and resilience. It is truly knowing that we have ‘worth’ no matter what!
Self-confidence and self-acceptance go hand in hand.
So how do we help our kids to find self-acceptance and self-confidence?
Improve Your Own Self-Confidence
If we want our kids to have confidence the most important thing we can do for them is to model that behaviour ourselves.
- This means doing things that we value in spite of what others may think
- Taking risks and having a go at things, ‘showing up’ and being vulnerable
- Knowing you will make mistakes and accepting them and learning from them when they happen
- When people congratulate you for your efforts accept their compliments
- Don’t call yourself names or put yourself down
- Use positive self-talk when attempting difficult tasks
Help them to be responsible
Children live in families and they need to learn that they have responsibilities within the family.
- Give your kid chores from an early age, this teaches them independence and increases their confidence in their ability to take care of themselves and others
- Research shows that children whose parents set chores for them are more responsible, can deal with frustration and delay gratification and have more self-confidence
- They learn to understand that they are contributing to the family, and learning to take care of themselves now. They are also learning important skills they will need when they become an adult
All feelings are good feelings!
If you want to raise a confident child then you need to teach them how to express all of their feelings.
- It is perfectly okay for them to feel sad, overwhelmed, unhappy, frustrated, worried angry and happy
- Trying to avoid all feelings but happiness is futile and can lead to mental health issues
- Many people will categorise feelings as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Some feelings are more pleasant than others but they are all important
- Our feelings can motivate us to action
Let your children experience all of the feelings that they can, don’t try to fix them or rescue your child, just be supportive and let them know that you are sure they will be able to deal with any difficult feelings they might be having. Don’t forget to empathise and let them know that you do understand that it is difficult for them.
Do NOT rescue them
Children learn through experience. If you want to help your children avoid painful experiences they will miss out on lots of learning. Allowing your child to move through a challenging time helps them to
- Understand that there are consequences for their behaviour
- Learn to problem solve
- See what good judgement looks like and what poor judgement feels like
- Experience a sense of right and wrong
- Develop a sense of independence and trust in their own abilities
- Learn that you trust that they can work things out for themselves
Kids need to learn about struggle and competition so that they can understand the importance of perseverance. If they fail it will build their character and teach them very important skills. As they grow into adults they need to have learned the skills to help them bounce back if they do not get the job, relationship, promotion or pay rise.
If you rescue your child on a regular basis you will be sending the message to your child that you do not think that they can handle issues on their own. If they get stuck ask them what they are going to do and if they are unsure, brainstorm with them.
Allow them to be flawed!
Telling your child that they are good at something when they clearly are not is going to create issues for your child. Not everyone can be a winner. Many parents feel it is their job to make sure they tell their children how smart, strong, or wonderful they are every single day. Unfortunately this is not helpful, children become confident not because of what we tell them but what they experience. If you are telling them they are amazing, but their coach or teacher or friends are sending different messages to them then they are going to feel hurt and upset and, more importantly, their confidence will be negatively impacted.
Allow your kids to see through their own experiences that they have talents and some struggles too, but their sense of worth is in accepting who they are.
For those kids who really are very talented you still need to be careful. If a child is constantly praised for getting great grades, or winning in a sporting event this can place a lot of pressure on a child. They may feel that their worth is built around being ‘perfect’ and I have never met a happy perfectionist!!
As parents our job is to help our child have self-acceptance and know their strengths and weaknesses and to feel that we love them no matter what.
Compliment with care
Kids need encouragement and letting them know we think they have done a good job or that we are proud of their efforts is really important. However if those compliments are exaggerated or given when they are not needed (like getting dressed for brushing their teeth) then they can have little meaning for your child. As kids grow they will learn that other people judge them differently from you.
When we over praise it can place a lot of pressure on children to be ‘perfect’ or ‘special’ and this can lead to a real fear of failing you. Let your kids be flawed and that you love them just as they are.
I don’t know any parents who don’t want what’s best for their children. We need to demonstrate through our own behaviour that it’s okay to be who we are and that we trust and believe in them and know that they can work things out for themselves.
Of course we will cheer them on when it’s appropriate and commiserate when they are having difficult times.
If you want to raise a confident child, raise a child who has self-acceptance!
I am a clinical social worker and I work with families and children on a variety of issues. If your child is struggling with self-acceptance or has low self-confidence please feel free to give me a call. You can also book an appointment with me online at the bottom right of the screen.
Until next time …