As is true with many parenting topics, two exercises can help us with clarity and a way to better support our child’s self-confidence.
First, we can think about the long-term goals we have for our children. This can help us to better prioritize what we want to support in the moment-to-moment care of our children. Often, when asked what it is parents ultimately want for their grown children, they say things like “I want them to be happy, I want them to be healthy, I want them to be confident, I want them to be kind, I want them to have healthy relationships, to be responsible, I want them to be successful in whatever they want to do…” Confidence or self-worth are often a big part of this ideal picture. This exercise can help confirm the importance of working to support them in this area.
Second, we can better understand the kind of support our children need when we reflect on when and how we have felt best supported. Think of mentors, teachers, relatives, or friends who were supportive of you. What was it about their approach that felt helpful, made you feel good about yourself? This can help us get closer to the tone and approach that is helpful for our children. If it’s hard to think of someone who was supportive, why is that? What was missing in those relationships that you know you needed?
So, what is self-confidence? It is often described as trust in one’s own capacities. When we feel good about our own capacity to succeed at the things we attempt, we are more likely to try new things, to keep trying, to enjoy the process, and to learn as we go.
Time and time again, research on self-confidence connects healthy self-confidence with success in life. People who are confident are more likely to be successful in their pursuits and claim more life-satisfaction and fulfillment.
Basic needs, feeling safe and belonging are often prerequisites for building self-esteem. Secure attachments to parents or caregivers and teachers form a foundation from which children start to explore and this supports a child in developing and maintaining trust in themselves. When we reflect to them our trust in their capacity, they take that in. An approach to supporting children through connection and understanding makes even more sense when we remember that trust and safety is at the heart of a person’s capacity to thrive.
So okay, you say, but HOW do I support a healthy amount of self-confidence in my child as they grow?
Building on this concept of safety and belonging, and reflecting back on what feels supportive to us, it’s likely no surprise when we point to the connection, warmth, and acceptance we have for our children and our commitment to learning about who they are as central to supporting their growing sense of self.
Along those lines, here are some tips that might help:
- Cultivate being in a learning state with your child/ren. We want them to see that we want to know them. That they are important. They see this when we allow our focus to be on them, when we spend our time with them. Showing your child that you want to learn about their thinking and process helps them see how important they are to you. Focus on discovering what they think, how did they come to that conclusion or idea? When you can, move out of teaching and into learning alongside your child, getting to know them well. Try to understand how something feels to them, instead of assuming we know - How is that for you? How do you feel?
- Phones, computers, and social media are a bit of an enemy in this process, unfortunately. The addiction is real for all of us. Trying to keep from distractions when we can be with our children is really important.
- Trust in the child's exploration and self-help skills is key to this (RIE/Follow the child...) When we really feel trust in their journey, and that it is uniquely theirs alone, it allows us to be present and appreciate them, which helps them feel seen, and when we feel seen for who we are and how we feel, that is where we start to feel we matter, we belong and our voice is important. We don’t always have time to let them lead, but when we do, these moments are so valuable.
- Trust that their feelings are safe for them to experience, even in big upsets. Be there for them and compassionate, but trust it’s okay for them to cry.
- Play with your child, spend time together, giving them your undivided attention, even for just minutes every day. This teaches them they matter.
- Show you want to understand them without jumping in with the assumption that we know how everything feels. Give them air time to share their feelings or thoughts. It’s okay to guess and even helpful in building their emotional vocabulary, but approaching it with openness to learn that we might be wrong about how they feel is helpful here.
- Celebrate with them, help them see we want to be with them and we are excited with them when they are proud of themselves, “You did it!”. This is different than the often heard “good job,” which can end up being disconnecting even with the best intentions. Getting specific about what they are doing and what they are interested in goes a long way toward better connection and helping them feel “seen.”
- Check your expectations. These short-term expectations can breed self-doubt if they aren't aligned with what the child is ready for. We can believe in a child's capacity and share that belief with them (encouraging) while not expecting specific outcomes in specific situations which may not be aligned with where they are at yet.
- Autonomy- provide opportunities for children to take on new tasks, chores, helping in the kitchen, having their own snack drawer so they can help themselves to what they need, dressing themselves… these are some ways in which we can support their naturally blossoming independence.
- And finally, it's not so much quantity as it is quality, we want parents to understand that quality time can be limited and still be a powerful support if we are really present with them when we can be.
Hoping this is helpful.