You might like to check out this article too about helping my son with increasing his confidence and motivation: Motivate Your Child with These Simple Steps
But what does a confidence look like in a child? Rather than offer you a dictionary definition, I’d make this suggestion: take a moment to look at specifically in which areas you think your child needs to improve their confidence. I ask you to do this because we can get swept up by this word and make a generalised statement that our child lacks confidence all of the time. It may well be that they display confidence in certain things. Let’s start by noticing what they are doing well.
Next I’d like you to really think about what areas you’d like your child have more confidence. What would it look like? What in particular needs to happen for you to see them more confident?
I want to share with you a brief exchange I had with a student once. They came to me saying that their teacher had said to them they weren’t very good at maths. I laughed at the idiocy of the statement. I said to the student, “What good is that to you? What can you do with that comment? Go study more maths? How?”
I pointed out to the student that it was both a useless statement as well as a deeply unhelpful one. Was the teacher instructing the child to go and learn the entire subject?
To be clear, I’m not disagreeing that the student was underperforming in maths, however how does this child go and remedy that? Revise everything?
I said to the student that it would have been useful to ask the teacher, “What in particular do I need to improve?”. That way if the teacher replied, “Division and multiplication” the student would have at least some target to aim for. In fact it could get more specific than that if we pursued it further.
What I’m bringing to you attention is that the more specific we can get, the clearer we are on the outcome. And more often than not the step(s) to achieving that outcome can be relatively small.
Read How to Win/Win Arguments with Children if you’d like to learn more about working with chunking. In the meantime I hope this has helped to get clear on what and where you’d like to see your child improve.
To get the most benefit from these methods will require you to really engage with your child and take the time to connect with them. Telling them, “Well done”, or “Good job” won’t cut it. It’s as generalised and unspecific as the math teacher comment. With paying attention, observing, and noticing you’ll better reinforce your child’s confidence. For example, you’ll be able to praise and help them specifically which will be so much more valuable to them.
Make them feel important by taking a real interest in what they are doing. Make them feel valued with what they contribute. Life can be hectic with our own responsibilities as well as activities and commitments your child has. So it’s worth understanding that this is not endless hours of talking or playing. It may simply be 5, 10, 20 minutes of your undivided time to fully engage with that they are doing – or just as importantly what they want to show you. Half paying attention and half looking at your phone or tablet will negatively impact on their confidence and self-esteem.
As with the example above, ask more in-depth questions get to understand their world. As I’ve mentioned in Dinner Table Talk, asking, “How was your day?” is a great start. Capitalise on that and show your child that you really care about what’s going on for them – it’s critical to a child feeling important.
Just like adults, children know when we aren’t paying attention fully. We all sense when someone isn’t completely engaged with us; and importantly how we feel when that happens. You can get a handle on how a child may feel too.
The reality is that often they only take up 5 minutes of your time before they want to move on to the next thing. And really, what does it cost you to give them your undivided attention?
When giving them praise or feedback, you can apply the same lesson as before: get specific. You can begin by saying, “Well done”, or “Good job”, but then use that to explain what you mean and what in particular you thought was good or well done. Use them as launch points not full stops.
This is something you can begin to actively do very quickly. Search and become aware of the times when your child is achieving something and praise and compliment them. It shows that you’re paying attention.
Even if your child is finding something challenging there will be something to cheer about. Be it their determination or commitment to see something through. These are the qualities that demonstrate confidence. Find whatever words are natural and appropriate for you, but look for any and all chances to praise their tenacity and determination – qualities both attributed to confidence.
Letting your children make their own choices, boosts confidence because they learn to trust their own judgment.
Let them choose their own clothes, even if it looks a little silly or mismatched. Let them pack their lunch, pick out a book to read, or jump off the diving board if they want to give it a go. You’re giving them the trust which amplifies their feeling of confidence. If we cut and swathe their decisions it will destabilise their self-belief and affect their confidence.
Remember: confidence comes through from experience.
Another way of doing this is by offering them two choices from which they can decide. You’ll be surprised how adult and responsible their answers and decisions are. For example, “Would you like to have a bath or a shower?”, or, “Do you think we need to wear wellies or normal shoes today?”. Anything that empowers them like this will contribute to improving their confidence.
The truth is confidence and self-esteem activities are very valuable. The additional truth is that the strength of these qualities is only truly tested when your child is allowed to attempt something uncertain or new – even if that means you’re having to bite your tongue in the process.
The work you will do to help and support your child requires – if not demands of you – the ability to let them do things that are a little out of your comfort zone. Yes, you’re going to have to be confident in their confidence to really make this work. There is little to no benefit if you step in at every moment they are deciding something and override their decision. It’s likely you’ll set their confidence back a fair bit.
Why is all of this important? Because your child will be faced with adversity, challenges and outcomes they didn’t anticipate throughout their life. Their ability to handle these disappointments will be one of the defining qualities of their success in life.
I can completely relate to the parent who winces at the thought of doing this. I too have struggled with those stomach churns as my son went off to the shops on his own for the first time. What I can say is that when that happens I realise that it’s me who’s doing the real learning and letting out the parental leash a little further. But it is worth it.
Let your child take the risk that they might fail so they can learn how to persevere.
Most children will leap at the chance of doing something grownup. Giving them the responsibility is a wonderful way to boost their confidence and to share with them what you do.
A great way I’ve found is to simple ask, “Could you help me with…?” or “Could you do me a favour?”. Children often – and this is true with adults too – respond positively when asked to do a favour for someone.
It can be that a simple life is all we ask for. I appreciate that a ‘no’ will make for an easier life, yet repeatedly refusing to do something will be a clear indication that you don’t see their desires as a priority. As you can imagine, this will not boost their confidence or self-worth.
It may sound tricky at first, but once you’re in the habit it’ll become easier to reword those noes to yeses. Reply with a yes and you’ll find there’s a greater chance of cooperation even if it is, ‘Yes, we can do that. And we’ll do it Wednesday’.
Also, consider whether it really needs to be a no reply. Are you saying no for a credible reason or more to avoid engaging with what they want. It’s worthwhile just checking in with yourself before going, “No”. Maybe you could comply? Perhaps ask yourself, “How can I find a compromise?”. By doing this your child will feel heard and respected whilst at the same time you feel you can get some of the outcome you’re after.
So often it can be tempting to leap in and help your child with a particular problem. By jumping in we deny them the opportunity of figuring out, as well as the disservice that we believe they can’t solve it.
Alternatively consider how you could guide them while still allowing them autonomy. This gives them the chance to discover the answer for themselves. Perhaps this is to some question or math problem. Or it may be some playground problem that’s happened. Hold yourself back from intervening until you believe it’s necessary.
Not only will their confidence get a boost but also their problem solving skills will be improved as well as their communication skills.
I have mentioned this in many other articles yet is remains true here too. Our children will model what they see on a regular basis, so give them confidence to model.
But not confidence that is close to arrogance, confidence comes also from vulnerability. Remain honest and open to your child and show them when you’ve made mistakes or when things haven’t worked out. Show them how your handle set backs and challenges.
The importance of doing this lies in showing them that life is more about how you handle it than it is what it gives you. Confidence and resilience in the most testing of times will have a powerful impact on your child, and become meshed in the way they think and engage with the world.
Naturally, be confident in what you do, your activities or sports, how you exhibit self-care. All of these are important and to maintain balance include the vulnerable elements of your life. You’ll be displaying a very powerful and strong part of your personality.
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Ben Jackson is a registered counsellor, coach, and lecturer with nearly 10 years of professional experience. He helps clients with stress and anxiety, anger management, self esteem, confidence, and depression.
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