We all want to see our children succeed and be happy, but in today’s challenging times, it’s easy for children to experience self-doubt if they don’t have the right tools for making good choices.
Self-confidence – a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities and judgment – is a learned skill and most children rely on their parents to guide them through the process of acquiring it. This can be stressful to parents since they, too, experience uncertainty and don’t always have the right answers. Here are some tips I recommend to help parents support their children.
Praise your child’s effort, regardless of the outcome.
One of the best ways to build a child’s confidence is through praise. It feels good to hear, helps a child feel recognized for their participation and encourages your child to continue to work toward goals and be creative with problem solving.
Use a sincere tone and descriptive words. This lets your child know exactly what you like and reinforces the behavior you want your child to repeat. For example, to a young child who is riding a bicycle for the first time, don’t say, “Good job riding your bicycle.” Instead, say, “I really like how brave you were riding your bicycle. You worked hard trying to stay safe and balanced on the street.” To a child working on math homework, I would recommend saying, “You’re doing a great job concentrating and working hard trying to figure out your math problems,” instead of “Keep up the good work.”
Most parents criticize children unintentionally, simply meaning to show them what they are doing wrong. They hope their child will see it as constructive and learn from their mistakes. Some parents also criticize because they are anxious about their child’s future and want them to succeed. But criticism can be harmful to children as it gets in the way of them initiating new tasks, and creates self-doubt and anxious behaviors.
I encourage parents to instead provide their child with useful feedback and suggestions so they can learn from their mistakes in a positive manner. Instead of saying, “That’s not how you do it,” when your child makes an error on a school assignment or doesn’t do a household chore correctly, say, “That was a good try, but here is a better way of solving this problem.” A parent could also say, “I see that you’re working hard trying to fold your clothes. Here is an easier way of folding your shirt neatly.” Children do their best when they are provided with constructive advice, which helps them develop the confidence to take on new challenges.
Model confidence, and how to manage an upset appropriately.
It’s important that parents model self-confidence, and help their child manage emotions when dealing with challenging tasks and disappointments. For example, parents can explain how they plan on acquiring a new skill by using words such as, “I believe I can do it even though it’s my first time,” or, “I’m going to try hard and do my best.” When parents experience a setback, they can model how to manage their emotions appropriately. This teaches their child to accept who they are, through the good and the bad. Their child will learn that no one is perfect and mistakes happen to everyone. When parents provide inspiring phrases and model appropriate responses, their child can mimic their self-confidence.
Set developmentally appropriate goals.
When a parent encourages their child to take on small, developmentally appropriate challenges, it helps their child build character and feel empowered to believe in themselves. As parents assign responsibility, it shows their child that they trust them. Children are able to understand and do more as they get older, so parents should recognize the limits of the younger ones.
Some parents wonder whether it’s OK to push their child to the next developmental level. If a child is asking their parent for a more challenging task and they have mastered the ones given to them, that might be appropriate. This supports your child in learning new things and helps them become more autonomous. They will be able to be confident and take the lead when an opportunity presents itself in their future.
Help your child find new interests where they can succeed.
Children gain confidence when they succeed in goals that they are interested in and have a natural talent for. It’s helpful for parents to introduce their child to many types of activities when they are young, so they can find things they are passionate about. This gives children the opportunity to make a difference and feel good about their accomplishments.
I also recommend that parents allow their child to pick new hobbies, which helps them feel empowered and more confident in their decision-making skills. When children are given the chance to explore new opportunities, they can challenge their level of comfort. These types of opportunities are helpful in teaching children to be courageous and setting positive standards for themselves.
Joanne Newfield is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles. She works with children, adolescents, families, adults and maternal mental health. She uses a variety of therapies designed to meet the unique needs of her clients, and is committed to supporting them every step of the way. Visit her online at www.joannenewfield.com.