MANY children are not born with confidence, but they can learn it - and helping them do just that is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child.
Confidence can help children meet challenges and fulfil their potential, and parenting plays a huge role in developing self-confidence, or denting it if a child is lucky enough to possess it naturally, say experts.
“Parenting is very important in relation to a child’s confidence,” explains consultant clinical psychologist Emma Citron. “On the negative side, critical parents might criticise a child’s weight, school performance, sporting ability, appearance, or anything, and that can have a very damaging effect on a child’s self-confidence. But if they are positive with them, nice to them and include them in things, they can feel good about themselves. You can challenge their negative narrative - nothing is irreversible.”
Author Kathy Weeks, who wrote the children’s confidence books You Are Awesome and What Do You Think?, stresses: “Confidence is a real issue for many children and it’s something every parent wants for their child - the ability to be fearless, taking on new challenges and enjoying learning new things.
“But every child is different, so having a toolkit to help them understand how to build individual resilience and rise to the challenges they’ll face in our changing world has never been more important.”
But how do you help boost a child’s confidence? The experts explain what parents need to know...
1. Don’t just assume they need help
A child isn’t necessarily unhappy just because they seem under-confident, explains Citron, who warns: “Don’t force them to do things - they could be quite traumatised and resentful. As long as they’re happy and seem to be joining in, going to school and doing the things they’re meant to be doing, don’t assume they’re missing out in some way.
“In a very kind, non-judgemental way, try to get in a discussion with your child about what might be making them reluctant to do something, and if they’re happy, then leave them be.”
2. Praise the good things they do
Citron says it’s important for parents to notice the good things children do, and as much as possible ignore the negative things. “Don’t make a big thing about everything ‘bad’ they do - remember, nagging can impact them and doesn’t make them feel good,” she says.
“So notice the good things, and praise them when they do something that was an effort for them, or if they were kind to a friend, etc.
"Try to be kind and pleasant and positive with them.”
3. Don’t take your own stress out on your kids
If a parent feels stressed or anxious, they should really try not to let that affect the way they treat their kids, warns Citron, who says it could damage a child’s self-confidence. “If a parent feels stressed themselves, try to sort that out elsewhere. Don’t take your stress out on your children,.”
4. Reframe success
How children perceive success can have a big impact on whether they have the confidence to pursue their goals, explains Weeks.
Success isn’t ready-made and she adds: “Almost every story of true achievement is one of dedication and challenge over a long period. Children who can see that success is a journey that takes time are more likely to start that challenge with a positive attitude, ready for the difficulties that will inevitably lie ahead of them in reaching their goals.”
Understanding the challenges helps build resilience and confidence, she says, and she advises parents to praise children for their effort as well as their results.
5. Look for role models
Weeks says parents should point out inspirational people who’ve achieved great things (they don’t have to be famous) to their children, and discuss their effort and hurdles they overcame on their journey.
6. Help them find what they’re good at
Citron says nurturing children’s skills will help them build confidence. “If they’re showing an inclination towards music, for example, try to see if there’s any music at school they can get involved with, because we like what we’re good at. If they’re getting involved with things they’re shining at, then they’ll continue to grow and feel good about themselves. Don’t be rigid about what they do and don’t do, and what you value or don’t value. Keep an open mind.”
7. Embrace failures
Children often worry about trying something new because they’re frightened of failing. But Weeks stresses: “We should help children to embrace those failures, to think of them as small nuggets of information helping them to understand what they still have to learn. Encouraging children to feel positive about their mistakes and not to worry about making them is crucial to building confidence.”
She suggests parents discuss the times they’ve made a mistake or failed at something with their children. “Let them see what you learned from it and that there was another chance to build on this and be better next time,” she says.
8. Encourage kindness
Research has shown small acts of kindness can reduce anxiety and boost confidence, says Weeks. “Kindness has a cascade effect,” she explains. “It builds trust and helps foster a good network of people around us, so in times of change or difficulty we have people to talk to and to help us out.” She advises parents to encourage children to think of a small act of kindness or help they can give each day.
9. Don’t try to change them
Citron points out extrovert parents will often think there’s something wrong with an introvert child, that they ought to be going out more, etc. But she warns: “If a child is more introvert, extrovert parents shouldn’t try to change them - don’t try to make them like you.
"There’s no agenda for a child - it’s about getting into a discussion and seeing what each child feels comfortable with at each age, and really listening and responding to their individual needs and wishes and not imposing your own agenda on them.”
10. Understand confidence can ebb and flow
Different children have confidence crises about different things, and parents need to understand their children’s confidence will ebb and flow over time, explains Weeks.
“Some children will feel perfectly at ease speaking up in class but feel nervous on the sports field, others love to be at the centre of their friendship group but worry if they’re asked to present in public,” she says.
“Whatever they’re fearful of, encourage them to believe there are no limits to what they might achieve if they get out there and give it a go.
“At points we all feel more confident and resilient than at others. The key is understanding this can change and working to help build our resilience back.”