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9 Ways to Help Your Child Build Self-Confidence

children's health and safety, self-confidence, self-esteem, parentin

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?

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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.

Play/Spend Time with Your Child
We know the day is full of duties and “emergencies” that need to be handled to keep life running as smoothly as possible, but spending time with your child tells them “You are worth my time; you are a valuable person.” Remember during this time to keep your focus on your child. Being distracted will be noticed and will negate the happy time you are trying to create.

Let your child initiate the activity because this will hold their attention longer than one suggested by an adult. Thus, more learning will take place when the child chooses what to do. It also increases self-worth because the child is thinking “Mom or Dad likes the things I do!” To avoid getting bored or frustrated yourself, you can always add your own twist as play continues such as “Let’s turn this block tower into a parking garage.”

Help Your Child Develop New Talents and Skills
Achievement is a great self-confidence booster. Ask your child about his or her interests and find ways to pursue them. It doesn’t have to be expensive; look for free or low-cost events around town that can offer a glimpse into a certain area. Libraries, for example, often offer free events to the public. If your child wants to try a sport, before signing him or her up for a local team, practice the basics in the backyard. Join the church choir if he or she likes to sing. Try scouting or join a local recreation club for outdoor activities.

Remember, though, to strike a balance between pushing him a little out of his comfort zone – which is necessary for learning – and being overbearing. All kids are different and each has his own individual talents. Don’t compare him to his siblings or peers, but instead try to bring out his own personal strengths.

You can also encourage a child’s self-confidence by giving him or her responsibilities around the house. This also helps them to develop values, such as pride in their surroundings. Children can learn the concept of responsibility as early as two to four years old. No, the dusting may not be as thorough as you would do it, but praise her anyway!

Set Up a Wall of Fame
Display accomplishments on the wall, along with pictures or other little momentos. It can be as simple as displaying artwork on the fridge, or as elaborate as setting up a trophy case. But your child should have his or her own place to go to when he is feeling down about himself.

Also, look around your house at the pictures you have displayed. Many of us tend to take lots of pictures of a first child, but subsequent children sometimes have fewer. Balance these so that all your family members are equally represented.

Screen Your Children’s Friends
A child’s values and self-concept are not only affected by their immediate family, but also by other significant to their lives, such as their friends. Let your child choose his own friends, but monitor the relationship to ensure that it is a positive one. Be aware of signs of bullying. With teens, ensure friends are not encouraging your child into actions such as underage drinking or smoking.

Encourage Children to Express (Not Stuff) Their Feelings
Expressing feelings comfortably does not mean exploding at every emotional twinge, but rather finding a comfortable balance between expressing the emotion and controlling unbridled feelings. Maturity develops by learning to stay calm in difficult situations, but on the other hand, a child who never expresses any feelings can become too reserved – producing problems in the future.

Do not discount a child’s feelings – remember that they are children. Do not holler at a child for breaking a necklace if it was an accident. Stop what you are doing; focus on the child, and say, “I’m sorry that it broke. I know it was special to you.” Then teach your child the better way to handle jewelry so that he or she will not accidentally break another.

Ask Dr. Sears - 12 Ways to Build Your Child's Self-Confidence
Attachment Parenting.org
ABC News - Signs of Low Self-Esteem in Children