9 Ways to Help Your Child Build Self-Confidence
Good self-esteem is an important factor in raising healthy children. According to the National Mental Health Information Center at the US Department of Health and Human Services, children who have a healthy self-esteem are more likely to act independently, handle both positive and negative emotions, appropriately handle peer pressure and can handle responsibility. Self-confidence is your child’s passport to a lifetime of good mental health and social happiness.
What is Self-Confidence?
Self-confidence is an attitude which allows individuals to have positive yet realistic views of themselves and their situations. Self-confident people trust their own abilities, have a general sense of control in their lives, and believe that they will be able to do what they wish, plan and expect (within reason).
On the contrary, people without self-confidence depend excessively on the approval of others in order to feel good about themselves. They tend to avoid taking risks because they fear failure. They generally do not expect to be successful.
Many factors affect the development of self-confidence. Parents’ attitudes are crucial to their children’s feelings about themselves, particularly in the early years. When parents provide acceptance, children receive a solid foundation for good feelings about themselves.
Nine Ways to Instill Self-Confidence in Children
Dr. William Sears MD, a trusted and renowned pediatrician, offers parents advice for building self-confidence in children, beginning in the infant years.
Practice Attachment Parenting
From the moment of birth, a baby wants just one thing – for the parents to be responsive to his or her needs. When a baby cries to be fed or comforted, for example, and a caregiver responds promptly and consistently, the infant learns that her cues have meaning. “Someone listens to me, therefore, I am worthwhile.”
Attachment Parenting is about forming and nurturing strong connections between parents and children. The practice challenges us as parents to treat our children with kindness, respect and dignity and to model in our interactions with them the way we’d like them to interact with others.
The first two years of a child’s life is particularly important because that is when the baby’s brain is growing rapidly. During this period a baby develops patterns of associations – mental models of the way things work. It is during this time that repeated positive behaviors will lead to feelings of high self-esteem.
Of course, attachment parenting doesn’t mean you are always perfect. We all will have days where we are short on patience. But keep in mind that it is the predominant pattern that counts – not the outliers that crop up every now and again. Use those moments of weaknesses, though, as an opportunity for you both to learn how to manage both positive and negative emotions so later they can bounce back from life’s setbacks with a sense of well-being.
Improve Your Own Self-Confidence
Children model what they see. Certain traits, such as anger and fearfulness, are learned. If you suffer from low self-confidence, take steps yourself to heal and break the pattern. Try this simple exercise that therapists call “passing on the best and discarding the rest”:
• List the specific things your parents did to build your self-image.
• List the specific things your parents did to weaken your self-image. (*But also remember – your parents did the best they could with their own circumstances. Don’t dwell on this, but just resolve to do better since you know better.)
• Now resolve to emulate the good things your parents did and avoid the rest. If you find it difficult to follow through with this exercise on your own, get help from a professional. Both you and your child will benefit.
Be a Positive Mirror
Much of a child’s self-image comes not only from what he thinks of himself, but also how he perceives others perceive him. This is especially true of preschoolers who learn about themselves mostly from their parents’ reactions. Do you reflect positive or negative images to your child?
Remember that no one can put on a happy face all the time, but your unhappiness does affect your child. If you are worried about something, you are probably not reflecting good feelings. Children will likely translate this into “She doesn’t like me.” If you are experiencing long-term depression or anxiety, seek help so you can resolve these feelings before they negatively affect your child.
Skip the Labels
Even if you are not intending harm, saying “My child has two left feet” when he trips over the cat will have a negative effect on his self-worth. Be supportive instead. Remember also that things you say about yourself affects your child as well. Saying “I’m fat” or “I’m dumb” will teach your child that it is okay to put himself down too.
Think before you speak and choose your words with care. Never, ever say that you don’t love him or her or that you wish they were never born. No matter what the situation, no matter how angry you are – this message is irreversible.