Raising Self-confident Children

Dear Parents,

We know that people with self-confidence do better in life. They set and achieve goals—maybe not all of their goals, but they are okay with that too. Confident people are more positive, they are optimistic about life. Confident people tend to be trusting, they see the good in people. They are also able to keep toxic people out of their lives. Parents want this for their child and ask what they can do to instill self-confidence in their child.

Contrary to what some believe, installing self-confidence isn’t about telling a child that he is smart, capable or well-liked. In fact, doing that does more to undermine a child’s confidence than to build it. The child who is always told he is smart, loses confidence when finds a problem he can’t solve. The child who believes he is well-liked does not cope well when he discovers that not everyone is in his fan club. Yet a child needs to know and feel that he is smart and capable.

A child comes to believe that he is likeable by seeing a positive and accepting light reflected in the eyes of others. The child that is rude and ill-behaved rarely experiences this from people outside of his own family. If a child has been taught basic manners and public behavior appropriate to his age, however, the chances are that he will receive smiles of acceptance from teachers, strangers and even stern Aunt Edie.

Equipping a child with a variety of skills and abilities boosts his confidence. The more a child knows and the more skills he has, the better prepared he is in any situation. If he knows his colors, he will not be befuddled on the first day of preschool when the teacher tells the class to use a red crayon. If a child has learned how to shake hands, she will be able to respond when old Uncle Albert sticks out his hand at her. Knowing how to catch a ball gets a child into a game with others. Each social success builds self-confidence.

Teaching skills and abilities goes wrong when a parent teaches by emphasizing the negative. We forget how it feels to be criticized. We think we are being constructive and fail to see that the child feels our criticism deeply. Over many negative experiences he will begin to lose confidence. He will feel that he can’t do anything right because that is the message of constant criticism, even when “it for his own good.”

Rather than trying to teach by ferreting out each mistake and misstep, use positive reinforcement. Tell your child what he is doing right, and then help him to learn the difficult part in a positive, complimentary way. For example, a parent doesn’t teach a child to draw a house by saying the door is too big and the windows are too small. Rather the parent compliments the color choice and asks questions such as “Where are you going to put the chimney?” or “Where will you park your car?” The parent might even sit down and draw their own picture, talking about what they are doing as they draw.

Positive encouragement can be applied to sports, academics and any social activities. It is the most effective teaching method and, importantly, it also builds a child’s confidence.

Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.

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