Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all raise kids with the confidence, spunk and compassion of Little Orphan Annie? Sure, most children won’t have to befriend and care for fellow orphans, outsmart a cold-hearted orphanage matron, survive life on the streets or win the heart of billionaire “Daddy” Warbucks. But all children face some hard knocks, and it’s important to equip them with enough confidence to not only survive, but thrive.
Self-confidence comes from a sense of competence. A confident child needs a positive and realistic perception of his or her abilities. This arises out of achievements, great and small. Your encouraging words can help develop this confidence, especially when you refer to your child’s specific efforts or abilities.
Here are 10 tips to help build self-confidence in your child:
1. Love your child. This seems obvious, but it’s probably the most important thing you can give your child. Even if you do it imperfectly—and who doesn’t?—always dole out plenty of love. Your child needs to feel accepted and loved, beginning with the family and extending to other groups such as friends, schoolmates, sports teams, and community. If you yell or ignore or make some other parenting mistake, give your child a hug and tell her you’re sorry and you love her. Unconditional love builds a strong foundation for confidence.
2. Give praise where praise is due. It’s important to give your child praise and positive feedback because children—especially young ones—measure their worth and achievements by what you think. But be realistic in your praise. If a child fails at something or shows no talent at a particular skill, praise the effort, but don’t unrealistically praise the results. Reassure your child that it’s OK not to be able to do everything perfectly. Tell him that some things take repeated effort and practice—and sometimes it’s OK to move on after you’ve given your best effort.
3. Help your child set realistic goals. When your child is starting out in soccer, it’s fine for her to think she’ll eventually be on the Olympic team. But if she fails to make the varsity team in high school and still thinks she’s an Olympic-caliber player, then she needs to focus on more realistic goals. Guide your child to set reasonable goals to help avoid feelings of failure. If the goal is a stretch, discuss some reachable short-term steps along the path.
4. Model self-love and positive self-talk. You must love yourself before you can teach your child to love him or herself. You can model this behavior by rewarding and praising yourself when you do well. Whether you run a marathon, get a promotion at work or throw a successful dinner party, celebrate your successes with your children. Talk about the skills and talents and efforts needed for you to achieve those accomplishments. In the same conversation, you can remind your child of the skills he or she possesses and how they can be developed and used.
5. Teach resilience. No one succeeds at everything all the time. There will be setbacks and failures, criticism and pain. Use these hurdles as learning experiences rather than dwelling on the events as failures or disappointments. The old adage, “Try, try, try again,” has merit, especially in teaching kids not to give up. But, it’s also important to validate your child’s feelings rather than saying, “Oh, just cheer up,” or, “You shouldn’t feel so bad.” This helps children learn to trust their feelings and feel comfortable sharing them. Children will learn that setbacks are a normal part of life and can be managed. If your child does poorly on a test, don’t smother him with pity or tell him that he’ll never be a good reader. Instead, talk about what steps he can take to do better next time. When he does succeed, he will take pride in his accomplishment.
6. Instill independence and adventure. Self-confident children are willing to try new things without fear of failure. With younger children, you will need to supervise from the sidelines. Set up situations where she can do things for herself and make sure the situation is safe—but then give her space. For example, demonstrate how to make a sandwich and then let her try it on her own, without your hovering or intervening. Encourage exploration, whether it’s a trip to a new park or new foods at mealtime. Daytrips and outings, new hobbies, vacations and trips with teammates or schoolmates can all expand your child’s horizons and build confidence in her ability to handle new situations.
7. Encourage sports or other physical activities. No longer the sole domain of boys, sports help girls and boys build confidence. They learn that they can practice, improve and achieve goals. Other benefits: they learn to recognize their strengths, accept or strengthen their weaknesses, handle defeat, expand their circle of friends and learn teamwork. Another confidence-boosting bonus: they stay fit and learn to respect their bodies. With the obesity epidemic among children, this is important, even if your child doesn’t pursue organized sports. Try to find a physical activity that he or she enjoys, whether it’s dance, martial arts, biking or hiking.
8. Support their pursuit of a passion. Everyone excels at something, and it’s great when your child discovers that something. As a parent, respect and encourage your child’s interests—even if they don’t interest you. Praise your child when they accomplish something in their budding pursuits. If your son’s talent is playing guitar in a band, support his interest, as long as it doesn’t interfere with responsibilities like schoolwork. This doesn’t mean you give free reign for your teenager to stay out all night or smoke pot in your garage, which brings us to the next tip.
9. Set rules and be consistent. Children are more confident when they know who is in charge and what to expect. Even if your child thinks your rules are too strict, she will have confidence in what she can and can’t do when you set rules and enforce them consistently. Every household will have different rules, and they will change over time based on your child’s age. Whatever your household rules, be clear on what is important in your family. Learning and following rules gives children a sense of security and confidence. As children get older they may have more input on rules and responsibilities. But, it’s important to remember that you are the parent—not a best friend. Someday when your child is feeling peer pressure, he or she may appreciate having the foundation and confidence to say, “No, I can’t do that.”
10. Coach relationship skills. Confidence in relationships is key to your child’s self-confidence. The most important initial relationship is the loving parent-child relationship. But as your child’s social circle expands, you will help her see how her actions affect others—and help her learn to maintain an inner core of confidence when someone else’s actions affect her. As a parent, it’s not your role to “fix” every situation, but rather to teach your child the compassion, kindness, self-assertiveness and, yes, confidence to handle the ups and downs of relationships.