Keeping your child confident
It's still vitally important for you to keep working at building your child's confidence throughout these years, especially as school life and friends may give it a sideways knock.
- Believe in your child and show it - let her know she's a worthwhile, lovable individual.
- Give praise and positive feedback - your child measures her worth and achievements by what you think of her. "Well done, that was hard, and you managed it" is music to young ears. Reassure your child that it's ok to make mistakes and that it's all part of growing up. Avoid being too critical - this directly damages confidence.
- Practise active, reflective listening - listen carefully, repeat what you've heard to make sure you understand and give positive prompts to encourage your child to continue.
- Acknowledge your child's feelings - and help her express them verbally: "I'm upset because..." or "I feel happy when...".
- Criticise behaviour, not your child - it's very easy to fall into this trap, but too much criticism tells your child she's a bad person and is causing things to happen because of her own stupidity or wickedness. This is very damaging if it goes on for a long time. Be clear that it's an action you're angry about or behaviour you don't like.
- Focus on strengths, not weaknesses - yours and your child's.
- Respect your child's interests, even if they seem boring to you - take a genuine interest in your child's friends, and what's happening at school. Comment to show you're listening.
- Accept any fears or insecurities your child expresses as genuine - even if they seem trivial to you, don't just brush them aside. If your child says "I'm useless at maths" say "You're obviously finding maths a struggle - how can I help you?" rather than "That's silly" or "Well you'd better start improving".
- Encourage independence - encourage your child to take chances and try new things. Succeeding gives a huge boost to confidence, and sometimes your child will need to learn by her mistakes.
- Laugh with your child - never at her.
- Focus on your child's successes - swimming, music, whatever she can succeed at. Don't focus on her failures.
Don't undermine your child's confidence
Young children are well aware of their inadequacies and the many things they can't do. Confidence can be destroyed if you constantly point these out, or criticise your child. Praise and support help motivate your child.
How to build confidence
It's best to avoid:
You've warned your child she shouldn't walk across the carpet carrying a cup full of milk and her dinner. She does it anyway, but trips and spills it. In a situation like this it can be tempting to say "Now look what you've done. I told you that you couldn't do it".
Comments like this makes your child feel even worse than she does already for failing at something. Instead try to give support by saying 'oh no, you tried, but it didn't work. Bad luck. Next time you should try the tray with handles or carry them one at a time'.
It's not only the critical things said directly to your children that can undermine confidence. If your child overhears you tell someone that "she's got two left feet" or "she's so clumsy" they might think you really believe this and feel it can't be changed. This is very damaging to a child's motivation to try to improve.
You may be surprised to learn that things you say about yourself could possibly damage your child's confidence. Children learn a great deal from copying adults close to them.
If you completely overreact to situations, saying things like: "I can't bear another minute at work - I just can't take the pressure" or "I have such bad luck - awful things are always happening to me", your child may worry that you really can't handle life's challenges. This won't give your child an example of a positive, optimistic attitude to life and how to handle problems.
Think before you speak and choose your words with care - it's very easy to say something without thinking, then wish you hadn't. "You're so clumsy" or "Don't be stupid" can be said in an irritated moment when the cereal is spilled or an innocent question is asked. Too many negative remarks like this result in children believing they're useless or stupid.
All the following remarks can damage a child's confidence:
- saying you don't love them
- constant criticism like "you're stupid"
- saying you wish they had never been born
- insults and name-calling
- deliberately ridiculing things your child does or feels
- cruel teasing and sarcasm
- endless nagging
- aggressive shouting and swearing