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Parenting Corner: How to Raise Confident Children

By Dr. Rachna Sharma

Confidence is simply a feeling or belief that you can succeed at something or do well.   It is believing in yourself and your abilities. It can also be thought of as one’s self-esteem or self-worth.   It is how children see themselves and this in turn will directly affect how they act and how others see them. Why is it so important for children to feel confident? Because confidence is a child’s direct pathway to a lifetime of social and professional happiness and is a foundation for a person’s well-being, overall mental health and success.  A lack of confidence will make people more likely to have behavioral problems and to struggle in most areas of their lives. A confident person is a person who will be more likely to rise to the top in what they do. They will more likely be the ones who people turn to. It will help children to be better equipped to face the pressures that so many children feel today.  Confidence will enable a person to stand up to a bully; defend themselves when they feel they are right; walk into a lunchroom full of people they don’t know and strike up a conversation with someone; and to generally have pride in themselves and their accomplishments. Confidence is not something that people are necessarily born with, though personality does play a role.  Rather, it is something that can be nurtured from an early age so that it gains momentum and eventually comes naturally to your child. But in order for this to happen, parents need to be aware of their own role in instilling confidence in their children.

There have been questions raised about whether over time; we are raising less confident children.  A possible explanation to this hypothesis is that in this day and age parents tend to be too overprotective and can be thought of as “helicopter parents.”  Helicopter parents is a term given to parents who tend to be over focused on their children and internalize all of their children’s experiences, particularly their successes and failures.  These parents tend to hover excessively over their kids every move and in doing so end up stifling their children’s growth and their abilities to learn. Some of these parents hover over fear that something will happen to their kids, emotionally or physically, if they are not constantly involved.  But when parents base their decisions out of fear of what might happen to their child if they let them do things on their own, they end up taking away a very important facet of the learning process. By trying to protect their children from failure, they forget that failure and challenges are crucial in teaching kids new skills.  With each challenge in life, children grow stronger and start to realize that they have the capability to handle the emotions that come with failure and challenges. This is a huge part of developing their self-esteem and self-confidence. Though helicopter parents may have good intentions and no one can argue that in these changing times parents may feel such a pressing need to be a constant monitor on their children, doing so can really be at a child’s long term detriment in terms of them developing their core sense of self.   As parents, we need to find the fine line that does exist between appropriate support and protection on one hand and giving children enough independence to foster confidence on the other.

So how can we, as parents, help our children to become confident individuals?  Building self-confidence is something that can start very early, even with infants.  Attachment parenting is an important way to set the groundwork for raising confident individuals.  By being a responsive and nurturing parent to an infant, you are starting to help babies develop a sense of self-worth.  They develop a sense of well-being when they are cared for and responded to and they start to integrate this into their sense of self.   The bonding process in itself sets a foundation for becoming a confident individual. As babies grow and start to pass different milestones and see that they are capable of doing different things, they get the inner feeling of “I can do it.”  With this feeling, the seeds of confidence are being planted. As toddlers master new skills they start to get a sense of themselves as being able and capable and they want to try more and to learn more. It is very common to see in toddlers the desire to try and do things on their own.   Obviously, keeping safety into account let them try; which will encourage them to feel comfortable with the feeling of doing something on their own. As your children grow, give them the opportunity to try new skills, like making their bed or tying their shoes. Make sure to show interest in what they are doing  and respond with excitement when they accomplish something. If they make a mistake, reassure them that this is okay and encourage them to keep trying. Praise their effort not just the results. However, be careful with your compliments. Kids absolutely need reassurance but make sure your compliments are appropriate and not excessive.  The reason behind this is that you want to praise what is actually praiseworthy so that children don’t have a false sense of their abilities and then feel shattered if they fall short in the real world. So compliment what is right but gently correct what isn’t. Don’t do things for your child, instead do things with them. When you do things for them, you take away their opportunity to become competent at that task.  Instead,, you can aid your child in doing things by subtly paving the way to accomplish something, either by breaking it into more manageable tasks or giving hints or suggestions so that the child can complete it on their own. This will help children feel the feelings of success while at the same time understanding that help and support are available to them. If they are struggling, reassure them that there is always a solution so they don’t give up.   Teach your children how to encourage themselves with self-talk, (“I can do this,” “It’s ok if I struck out, if I try harder next time, I can get a base hit”) so that in situations that may trigger disappointment they are able to turn this around into something more positive. Don’t let the words, “I can’t” enter their vocabulary. Your kids will ask a lot of questions of you as they grow up… Answer them! Show them and teach them! Whether is it how to crack an egg or why do spiders spin webs?  Take the time to answer their questions. This will show them that it is wonderful to think, learn and ask questions and make them confident and willful learners. Teach your child how to handle frustration. When things don’t go the way they are supposed to for your child, instill in them the importance of not letting it get the better of them. Help them to understand that frustrations are a part of life and are not something to let take over their thinking. Your children have to learn to believe in themselves and their capabilities and this will take them far in life. Lastly, teach your children to have an optimistic and positive approach to life.  Teach them to love themselves and to be proud of who they are and of all of their qualities. Admire them, tell them you love them and tell them the things that are great about them. Do this every day so that they carry it with them. You’ll notice a genuine smile from the heart as they hear you do so and with time, they won’t need you to tell them; they will feel it on their own.

It is vital to try to not only work with your children to build their self-confidence but to model it yourself.  Confident parents will raise confident children. If you notice that you lack in the areas of being a confident individual, seek help for yourself which will in turn help your children.  It is never too late to start helping your child on their journey to greater self-worth. When it is all said and done, the adage stands correct. The two best gifts parents can give a child are roots and wings.  There are different interpretations to this saying; one is that love is the roots and confidence is the wings. Because by giving your child confidence, you are giving them the ability to handle life’s ups and downs with agility and poise and soar straight to a path of happiness and fulfillment.

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