Confidence: The “belief in one’s self and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance: Lack of confidence can defeat.”
Self-confidence should be high up on a parent’s list of qualities to instil in their children.
Others may see the value in confidence but believe “you either have it or you don’t,” making it a waste of energy to nurture. Well, maybe we’ve forgotten what healthy confidence actually looks like, where it comes from, and why we need it.
Confidence doesn’t necessarily mean the opposite of being shy or modest, nor is it about self-importance. It’s about integrity and resilience and measuring yourself against only yourself. Being honest about who you are and grow from shortcomings.
People with confidence have a positive effect on the world. Because they believe in themselves and their potential more than they believe in fitting in. The world needs that; children we bring up need it.
And they definitely don’t have to be born with it.
So now that we know the need to nurture confidence from a young age, we asked professional child caretaker Florence Ann Romano how to raise a confident kid.
“I always say there is a fine line between confident and cocky,” Romano says. “Our world today presents many challenges when raising kids. But a big hurdle to jump is the overwhelming epidemic of entitlement. We’re seeing a trend where children think everything should be handed to them,” she continues.
But that doesn’t mean there’s not a place for praise. In fact, she encourages you to “celebrate the things your child does well to reinforce that good behaviour. It helps drive them to be the best version of themselves and motivates them in the moments they feel less than capable.”
If you’re wondering how to strike the balance between confidence and entitlement, focus on celebrating certain qualities and characteristics that lead to achievement.
How to Make Kids More Confident
Have they exhibited integrity? Kindness? Compassion? Leadership? Courage? Problem-solving? Hard work? Show them you’re proud of those things in relation to a prize, trophy, award, or grade they received. In other words, congratulate them on the hard work that went into something, not just the results.
Similarly, praise—or rather, warmth and admiration—shouldn’t only be expressed when they get an accolade or official recognition; the effort and intention behind something are worth pointing out.
This will also help instil intrinsic motivation early on, rather than encouraging them to be motivated by external validation. You can also think of it as an evaluation versus assessment. The former emphasizing judgment and the latter being rooted in improvement and growth.
Confidence is about being who you are and liking yourself for it, not measuring your self-worth by what you look like or how successful you are.
Celebrating your kids for who they are and what makes them an individual, not what they look like or how well they fit in, is a recipe for self-love. You want them to have a positive self-image and to believe in their ability to accomplish things through hard work.
So even if your interests look different than theirs, or something they like or do is offbeat or unpopular, encouraging them to try new things and to discover what excites them and what they’re good at can breed a ton of confidence. This is partly because passion fuels hard work, joy, and fulfilment.
How to Build Confidence in Kids
Beyond that, having the freedom to discover who they are on their own usually involves making difficult choices and accepting new parts of themselves. A process that teaches them to trust themselves and their own judgment (that means you have to trust it too).
Give them a routine that let them predict what’s next gives them a sense of stability, which makes it more likely that they’ll feel secure and comfortable. If they’re at ease going through their day-to-day life, they’ll also be more confident when harnessing their individuality and practising decision-making skills in tougher moments.
When they fail, let them. How else can anyone learn that risks come with rewards and that failure is a part of life? Getting hurt is painful, as is hurting others, but if we’ve never done it, how would we know? This is one of those lessons that we continue to learn with each failure for the rest of our lives.
And letting go of the reigns a bit is scary, but it doesn’t mean your kid will be completely on their own to deal with the consequences when they do get hurt. In fact, you should be there to help them navigate and overcome those failures so they learn to do so independently later on.
As Laura Markham, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today, “stop controlling and start coaching.” Why? Because “doing things for your child robs them the opportunity to become competent,” she explains. Be there when a child gets in trouble at school, struggles in a class, or even just when they fall on the playground.
If they feel like they are active participants in the growth that springs from messing up, they’re more likely to understand why their choice was wrong or what led to the failure (and moving forward, how they can also be a part of the solution).
How to Raise a Confident Child
This isn’t to say that discipline doesn’t have its place if the failure has hurt someone else or has gotten them into trouble. In fact, this should be applied in conjunction with discipline.
As Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., also explains in Psychology Today, parents help children navigate failure or mistakes by staying calm, connecting on an emotional level, and seeing it as an opportunity to teach empathy rather than just isolating them. Sometimes, these very mistakes are born out of insecurities. So maintaining confidence in the face of failure (while also taking full accountability) will help them learn from these mistakes rather than become defined by them.
Ultimately, the goal is to help children learn “that they are enough—as they are—and shouldn’t compare themselves to everyone else. That is where low self-esteem comes from—the comparison to what a child wishes they were,” Romano reminds us. Of course, this is much easier said than done, especially if you’re reasoning with a teary-eyed third grader who is struggling with their homework and just wants to play.
Showing them they’re not alone is a good approach at times like these. Romano recommends showing “them your weaknesses—things you have struggled with; give examples from your childhood or, even better, how you are currently able to relate to their hurt/weakness/challenge. Give them something to relate to, and let them know that this too shall pass.”
How to Teach Kids That Mistakes Are Okay
However, one of the common pitfalls is mistaking relating to your kids by comparing yourself to them, which can put pressure on them to be like you instead of themselves. Romano says to be especially mindful of this when “you do something well that your child struggles in. For example, I am absolutely math illiterate—I have always suffered greatly in that subject my whole life. My mom, however, was great at math.
When growing up, my mom never got mad at me for not being able to do something that came so easily for her. Instead, she always gave me the help I needed to get through the moment. [And] she had me focus on the things I could do that she said she struggled with. Wow, what a goosebump moment.
Having conversations in moments of mistakes and mishaps is an essential step in building confidence. But learning how to be assertive can also be nurtured during smaller moments and conversations through active listening.
She realized that perhaps my outspokenness was a good thing and that children should be heard too. But more importantly, that it was a part of my essence and dimming it down wasn’t an option. Allowing me to speak up freely with her at home—whether it was to tell a joke, share a nonsensical thought, to advocate for myself, or stand up for something wrong I was witnessing. I’d bless the family table occasionally and this fostered a relationship of trust, open communication, and most importantly, radical self-expression.
How to Raise a Son of Confidence
Romano echoes this idea, saying, “I am always a big advocate of transparency with your children. Talk, talk, talk. And I don’t mean you, I mean the kids. Do a lot of active listening to your children. Get to know them, get them comfortable speaking about their feelings. If you can teach your child, by example and through others, to have these qualities, you’ll have a confident child who not only is going to take the world by storm but leave it in a better place than they found it.”
As researcher and author Brené Brown said, “you cannot give your children what you don’t have yourself.” Since kids watch the adults in their lives and model that behaviour, it’s important to work on your own self-image and confidence through positive self-talk. If you’re constantly putting yourself down, this will seem normal to them. If your child sees that you are confident and self-assured, they will be more likely to do the same.
How to Raise a Daughter of Confidence
“Being kind and having courage; being tolerant and compassionate—all these things make for a confident child.” This includes being kind to ourselves. Happiness is the gateway to most power in this world: the power to do good, change what needs changing. Happiness is the bedrock of confidence,” and without self-esteem, happiness is much harder to achieve.
In other parts of the world, kids can travel long distances without their parents. Others will cry “Where is my mummy?” for you. Don’t raise weak minds. Raise children who believe in themselves and in their abilities. Have the confidence that you can raise confident kids. Because you cannot give what you don’t have.
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