As parents, we want a lot for our children and somewhere near the top of our list is building confidence in kids, to ensure they have this essential element as a foundation for their future. There are so many aspects to teaching kids confidence and so much of it comes from how we, as parents, display confidence and speak to our children.
Whilst at the park with my kids during the school holidays, I saw exactly that. Right in front of me, two different parents approached a very similar situation completely differently.
There was a large rope-climbing frame in the park which led up to a high wooden platform that the kids could reach, walk along (don’t freak out, it was all enclosed) and then slide down a large curvy slippery dip to get back to the bottom. It was a really exciting piece of playground equipment and all the kids in the park wanted to try it. A great way in itself, to start building confidence in kids!
I watched as a young boy, desperate to follow his older siblings up the rope-climb, started getting anxious the higher up he climbed. The fear had started to set in and he began questioning his ability to reach the platform. His mother, standing below watching him, was also getting nervous. Then I overheard their conversation, which went something like this:
‘Mum, I’m trying to get to the top but I don’t know how to get there.’
‘If you don’t know what you’re doing, then come down!’
‘Well, you should stop then!’
As someone who talks to adults about fear all the time, I believe there could have been a different approach to this conversation. Perhaps a conversation that might have helped this child understand that the fear he was feeling was completely normal and a part of every day life. You definitely don’t want to teach children (or even adults, for that matter) that they should stop what they are doing as soon as they experience the first sign of fear.
About 20 minutes later, another family came along whose children also wanted to tackle the climbing rope. The situation that unfolded was similar to the earlier one, yet the conversation that the father had with his daughter was immensely different.
The younger daughter tried to follow the older siblings up the rope climb and started to get nervous as she reached the higher levels. The father, standing below, had a very different conversation with his child:
‘Dad, I don’t think I can do it.’
‘Yes, you can. You’re nearly there.’
‘But I’m scared up here.’
‘That’s ok. I know it’s scary. All the kids would have found it scary the first time. You can make it to the top. Just take one step at a time.’
After hearing both conversations from these families, I reflected on what a huge impact the words that we use during challenging times, have when we are building confidence in kids. These two examples show a very different approach to helping kids learn that the fear they feel when facing challenges is a very normal part of life. These are the lessons that can make a significant difference to that child’s adult experiences.
7 Steps to Building Confidence in Kids
1. Ensure they have a positive perception of their abilities
Remember, our confidence comes from a belief in our abilities… a sense of competence. Children need a positive perception of their abilities. It is their success in achievements, large and small, that helps them build this. Help them set goals (see point #2) and talk to them about their progress and their ‘wins’ along the way.
2. Help them set realistic goals.
Goal setting is such an important skill for us all and a vital step in building confidence in kids. Helping your child set realistic goals will help them build their confidence. They will learn that if they focus on an outcome they want (the goal) and work towards it, they can set and achieve it. When they want to achieve larger goals, help them to break those down into smaller, more bite-size steps. This will give them a greater sense of achievement along the way to achieving the larger goal.
3. Teach them resilience
It is SO important for children to realise that life will always have setbacks, failures, challenges and hurdles to overcome. This is a vital aspect to building confidence in kids. The most valuable lesson for the child to learn is to never give up! Helping your child to continue trying when they experience failures will arm them with a resilience they will need later in life. Setbacks are normal so helping them to find ways around those challenges and continue towards their desired outcomes is invaluable.
4. Give the right type of praise
Research shows that giving your child the ‘right’ type of praise has a significant impact on building confidence in kids. Praising children for their effort and the process they used, helps them learn strategies that they can apply again and again. This means that praising them for their focus, for listening or for attempting a difficult task again after a failure, will have a more significant impact than just offering praise when the final result is achieved.
5. Help them deal with the feeling of fear
Help kids to understand what the feeling of fear is. Explain that everyone feels fear when they are doing new and challenging things. Feeling fear is not something to avoid but rather something they need to learn to manage and push through. The more that kids are able to manage the feeling of fear, the better their skill in managing it in the future will be. This will be important when they start taking even bigger steps outside their comfort zone as they grow up.
6. Help them try new things without fear of failure
Not attempting things due to the ‘fear of failure’ is a huge adult problem and it is vital that we try to help our children overcome this early in life. It is great for them to understand that no one succeeds at everything all the time. Learning to cope with failure is an absolutely necessary life skill however children may need help understanding that failure is simply an interpretation, rather than a fact. Did they fail or did they succeed in other ways? Maybe they didn’t achieve the outcome they wanted but is it truly a failure, a setback they need to work around, or even an insight into a different process or pathway that they can take?
7. Display confidence and positive self-talk
We all know that children learn SO much from watching us. It is therefore vital that we practise what we preach and SHOW kids what confidence looks like.
Model the behaviours in the points above for yourself. Talk to your children about the realistic goals you have set for yourself and the effort you need to put in, to achieve these goals. Explain the challenges you’ve faced along the way and any failures you may have experienced. Express and acknowledge how proud you are of yourself, that you pushed through the setbacks. Tell them you were scared and that you did things outside of your comfort zone. Reassure them that you were afraid of failing but you did it anyway. Showing your child how you reward and praise yourself when you do well or work hard will help them learn how to do the same for themselves. It really is a case of monkey see, monkey do!
Building confidence in kids is something we all want to do as parents. Confidence is such a foundational life skill, which dictates the levels of achievement and success in your child’s future.
Just as we focus on kids eating right, behaving and doing their homework, try to use the steps above to grow more confident and resilient children. These are the kids who will go through life with a strong belief in themselves and their abilities.
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