Building Confident Kids
Some kids are just born confident. From the time they’re toddlers, it seems that difficulties just roll off their backs. Other kids seem to be constantly second-guessing themselves, even from a young age. They may be nervous to try new things, or they may take criticism so hard that they’re unable to recover from it.
There’s good news, however. According to Dr. Suzanne Reiffel and Dr. Erica Ross, two clinical psychologists who have been practicing for over 25 years each, say even children who are not born confident can develop the skills that they need to gain confidence and maintain it.
The Importance of Confidence
As adults, we might take confidence for granted. For kids, however, confidence is key. “Confidence helps you learn how to adapt to living in the world,” says Reiffel. “Confident children are able to try new things, meet and adapt to other people, and deal with mistakes when something bad happens. It overrides every part of functioning for kids – social aspects, academics, the feelings that they have about themselves, and of course, how they react to bullying and peer pressure.”
High levels of confidence have been linked to better academic functioning and better social skills. But just telling your child “Good job!” or “You’re a star!” doesn’t build self-confidence. “Think of the ‘self’ in self-confidence,” says Ross. “It’s the child’s own viewpoint that matters.” Sounds easy, right? But as a parent, how can you build up your child’s confidence?
Bolstering Your Child’s Confidence
Reiffel and Ross have helped to create the Charge Up Your Confidence Tool Kit for Kids, in which they provide activities and guidance that can build a child’s confidence. Here are a few of the tips that they have found work best:
- Help your child focus on her individual strengths, on what is special about her. These attributes can bolster your child when she encounters difficulties. For example, your child might like to play basketball, to draw, to take care of her baby brother, or to be nice to animals. Notice that none of these strengths are things that they are “the best” at, or even things that they have succeeded in. They are positive attributes that make them who they are.
- Encourage your child to make a goal and succeed in it. For example, your child’s goal might be to learn how to ride a two wheeler or to muster up the courage to jump off the diving board. But rather than letting these successes fade into memories, do something to help your child remember the effort that he put in and how proud of himself he was when he succeeded. You may want to suggest that your child write down these memories on sticky notes and hang them up on the side of his bed so that he can see them often.
- Teach your child how to use a confident body and a strong voice. “They should pretend they’re confident even if they’re not,” says Reiffel. “Confident people are happier, and other children are attracted to confidence, so if a child acts confident they will be much more appealing to other children.” This is especially helpful in confronting bullies, who are looking for children who give off an insecure impression.
- Encourage effort, rather than results. For example, you might say, “Wow, you must have worked really hard in order to get that A!” or “Those hours of practice in the driveway really paid off!”
- Let your child evaluate herself, rather than waiting for your evaluation. In other words, replace language like “You did great! I’m so proud of you!” with “How do you think you did? What do you think you did well?”
- Model confidence for your child. “If a child is being raised in a home that’s filled with confidence, he’s a lucky kid,” says Ross. “Through modeling, you can give your child a love of learning, a love of challenges, a love of working towards a goal. Being a confident parent gives kids tools on how to retain confidence.”
- Help your child react correctly to criticism. In the Charge Up Your Confidence Tool Kit, Reiffel and Ross have included a tool called “4,999 pieces.” In it, they tell children to imagine that their confidence is a five thousand piece puzzle. When they receive criticism, they should realize that it only affects one piece of the puzzle, but that there are still 4,999 pieces that they can feel proud of.
A confident child will be able to face whatever the world throws at him. When they don’t get a part in a play, when they don’t make a team, when someone whose opinion they respect gives them criticism – it is their confidence that will help them pull through and learn from the experience, rather than getting bogged down in disappointment and self-censure. And it is you, as a parent, who has the ability to help your child develop the attribute of confidence.
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