Building a healthy sense of confidence in children requires a balance between supporting and nurturing them so that they feel capable of success, and also pushing them through obstacles and giving them experience with taking risks that result in both successes and failures. Too much protection means they will never feel confident in taking on challenges on their own or may have an inflated or unrealistic sense of their own abilities or ego. Too little support and protection and they may never learn to believe in themselves or to push themselves outside of their comfort zone. How can we find the balance? Here are a few ideas to help our children develop confidence and independence, yet also feel supported and believed in.
Let Them Fail
It is natural as both a parent and a teacher to want to protect our children from the disappointment or pain that can come with failure. We want the best for them and want to do all that we can to support them on their journey towards success. However, studies show there is a strong relationship between resilience and self-esteem. Through making mistakes and experiencing setbacks, children are able to build resiliency and persistence. No matter how big or small the task they are working on is, when we jump in to minimize their frustration we are unintentionally building a fear of failure. Letting children experience their own difficulties and then encouraging them to problem solve and navigate through challenges independently builds inner strength and self-sufficiency.
Show Them That You Value Their Opinion
In previous generations, the belief was that the adult always knew best and that children were just an empty vessel in which to instil our own values and opinions. Working with children today, it is clear to me that children have very creative and insightful perspectives, often picking up on the subtleties that we as adults miss and are more open minded to new ideas that we may initially rule out based on our own biases. The act of asking our children’s opinions about certain decisions makes them feel valued and appreciated. Even the simple act of deciding what to make for dinner or where to go on your next family outing is a big deal to a child. Asking your children for their advice with family problems and acknowledging them when their ideas help can really go a long way. I am constantly being surprised by the ideas and insights the children in my class come up with. Allowing them to experience how their ideas can be followed through on and make a difference, empowers them to continue trusting in their own beliefs.
Encourage Your Child to Work Outside Their Comfort Zone
Just like us, children can easily get comfortable working in areas that are familiar and easy for them and be reluctant to change or to take on new challenges. Every now and then however, we must challenge our kids to try something new to continue to build confidence. We can help them do this by modeling and talking with them about the new challenges that we are taking on ourselves and what helps us find the courage and perseverance to work through them. When children learn to take small risks they develop a better understanding of how courage is necessary to accomplish new things and that being afraid is okay. Fear can drive us to do things we never thought possible and allow us to grow and learn new things. Once they experience success with small risks they will grow confident in taking on even bigger ones.
Create a Family Values Statement
In the classroom we create a contract of agreements that we make towards each other and the rules and behaviour that are expected in the community. This helps the children know boundaries and limits and enables them to feel more confident know how to act or respond in different situations. In the family unit, there are also rules and values that guide you as a family. By creating a family values statement you create an opportunity to share your personal beliefs with your children and how it should influence your family’s behavior. Ask them for their contributions and ideas and come back to the family values statement when challenges or disagreements arise both inside and outside the family. Help them apply the values to challenges they may face when they are at school or in other activities outside the home. Children will gain confidence by having a clear, solid foundation with regards to values to help them navigate through this increasingly confusing and complicated world we live in.
Provide Opportunities for Your Child to Contribute to the Family and the Community
Encouraging children to make important contributions to help the family enables them to build a greater sense of belonging and responsibility and confidence in learning how to do tasks that can help the household. Doing household chores, helping to plan and cook meals, or taking a lead in a family tradition are some way children can contribute to the family. Allow them to choose a responsibility that they truly value and with which they can see the connection of their involvement and how it has helped the family. Finding ways to contribute to the local community such as raising money through a fundraiser for a local charity or helping to clean up trash at a local park can also help them to feel empowered in the difference they can make in the world. It can also help them build awareness for the challenges that others face and appreciation for what they have.
Let Them Get Bored
In today’s world, many children do not ever have the opportunity to get bored as our schedules can be so busy. When they do express boredom, it can be tempting to try to find something to fill their time rather than see it as an opportunity for them to become resourceful. It’s much easier to turn on a TV or computer screen to entertain them rather than provide them with a chance to think for independently of a more creative way to use their time and make choices for themselves. Children that have unstructured free play are better able to develop creativity and self-reliance. It’s amazing what children can come up with when left with a little time and their own imaginations. The more we fill their time, the less they are able to tap into that natural creativity.
Name and Celebrate Your Child’s Strengths
At times we can be too focused on the areas where we would like to see our children improve. Every child has a special talent or gift. Sometimes it is obvious and many times it is not. It could be that they have a special gift of making others feel better. They may show talent in a particular subject in school, have a great sense of humor, or be a natural athlete. Nurturing and acknowledging their special gift makes them feel understood and empowers them to use that strength to help others or to help themselves when they face challenges. Of course we do not want to overpraise and tell our children they are good at everything. This is what can create overconfidence or an inflated sense of self. Discuss how we all have our own strengths and challenges and that what is easy for them may not be for someone else and vice versa.