Alyson Schafer, psychotherapist, parenting expert and author of the best-selling Breaking the Good Mom Myth (Wiley, 2006) shares her tips for raising a confident child.
1. Practice acceptance
Not all kids are going to be the life of the party. Every child is different. "Think about the fact that some kids are introverted and some are not. There is room on the planet for both," she says. If your child has only one friend, this doesn't necessarily mean he or she is lacking confidence. "If they have one friend, you know they are capable of making friends," Schafer says. This is just their style of friendship. Some kids pal around with the entire soccer team, while others choose one person they feel close to. Schafer also advises against comparing your child's social behaviour to your own. Just because you have many friends and an active social calendar doesn't mean your child will be the same way.
2. Encourage rather than praise
Praising your children for an achievement, such as receiving an 'A' on a test or scoring a soccer goal, sounds like a good idea, but not so says Schafer. "You are still judging even when judging favourably," she explains. When you praise your child, he or she is only being evaluated on the end product, not the effort put in to get there. In some cases, children can become afraid of losing their parent's love if the next time they don't score a goal or get an 'A', even if they put in the same amount of effort. It's not about the grade or the goal – if your child gave something their all, take notice, Schafer says. "When you speak to effort, you can encourage anyone at any age." Emphasize effort and improvement as a way to show your child you are noticing everything they do.
Page 1 of 2 — on page 2, learn to help your child develop skills.
3. Break things down into small tasks
Schafer gives the example of her own daughter, who came home from school recently with a worksheet of 50 math problems. She didn't believe she would be able to complete such a large task so Schafer broke it down. "I cut the sheet into sections of five and asked her if she thought she could do five math problems." She said she could do five at a time and was able to complete the entire task. There are ways around daunting tasks or taking on things that require a lot of confidence. Breaking something down, even something as simple as making the bed or tying shoes, can make kids feel more capable of taking on new tasks, Schafer explains.
4. Turn mistakes into opportunities to learn
Let's face it, we all make mistakes – big and small. But it's how we deal with them that really matters. The same applies to children. If your child spills a glass of milk, don't yell at them for making a mess or make them feel like they've done something terribly wrong, Shafer says. Instead, show them how to clean up the mess. This teaches them they are capable of taking control over a situation, even when things don't work out. "See mistakes as opportunities to learn," Schafer says. Discuss the mistake and plan for minimizing the chances for it happening again. If children know mistakes aren't the end of the world, they will be less likely to avoid trying new things based on a fear of failure.
5. Help children develop skills
One of the biggest building blocks for self esteem nugget lies in feeling capable, Schafer explains. This is a big piece of the self-confidence puzzle. As soon as your child is old enough to brush their hair, dress themselves or cut their French toast, let them do it by themselves, Schafer says.
By doing everything for them, you aren't allowing them to develop skills or a belief that they can try new things. "Present your child with a task that seems just out of their reach, but that you as a parent know they can handle," she suggests. The more they do by themselves, the more confident in their own abilities they'll become.
6. Set a good example
Even if you are conscious about ensuring you do all of the above to help build and maintain a child's confidence, you also have to be conscious of how you react to your own mistakes. If your child sees you throw your hands up in frustration and beat yourself up after burning the lasagne, chances are, your kids will pick up on this behaviour. Children learn by example and what you do and say when something goes wrong can influence how they handle similar situations. Try to turn your own mistakes and frustrations into learning experience for the whole family, rather than using to negative self-talk or anger.
• Are you being too hard on your kids?
• Learning how to deal with your child's personality
• Helping a self-conscious youth
Page 2 of 2