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Kathryn L. Stout, B.S.Ed., M.Ed.
Published: January 2000
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How we interact with our children can make or break their self-confidence. Simple actions can make all the difference. Here are tips that take little time and only a minimum of effort, but will have terrific benefits:
- Sincerely and specifically praise each child for his effort. The confidence he feels motivates him to continue trying. When only major achievements or successes are praised, a child may eventually quit working toward something as soon as he believes he will not be the best or can not reach some standard of perfection. (Or because he believes he will never be able to please you.) So, there is an added benefit -- a foundation is laid for later perseverance.
- "Catch" your child when he behaves well. We are quick to respond when we must discipline improper behavior. We need to remind ourselves to respond when we see proper behavior. A word of praise will not only build confidence, but encourage him to behave correctly at other times.
- Listen. Take time to listen to whatever is on your child's mind. You don't have to stop working, just respond in a manner that assures him your mind is with him even though you are doing chores. Responses should be respectful. If he has expressed opinions you want to disagree with, do it as if he is an adult. That is, avoid stern-sounding lectures and respond with support for your opposing views. The sense of being heard, not agreed with is what provides a sense of confidence.
- Provide plenty of opportunities for the child to make discoveries. This is a sure way for a child to feel smart and that's always a confidence booster! The easiest way to do this is to occasionally direct children to find answers instead of automatically supplying them. For example, when I was five I noticed that my playmate's sandbox had soft white sand unlike the coarse brown grains piled in my yard. I asked my mother what sand was made of. Instead of telling me, she handed me several sifters and said, "Why don't you see if you can find out?" Eagerly I sifted the sand and studied the results. I rushed in to announce my brilliant discovery, "It's made of little stones!" Wisely she responded with a smile. It never occurred to me that she already knew, I thought I was teaching her, and I felt wonderful.
- Always treat your children with the same polite respect you want them to show to you and others. How we are treated affects our sense of confidence. If we are called names, and/or rarely praised, we feel less capable in every situation we face, not just situations similar to our negative experiences.
- Freely, and regularly, tell each child you love him. Children want and need the love of their parents. Don't assume that they know you love them. Children frequently misunderstand our behavior. The young feel unloved every time they are disciplined, which is usually quite often. Counter all of this with lots of verbal reminders of your love.
- Remind each child of his good qualities. This is welcome at any time, but is especially important if your child has been experiencing any sort of struggle. It helps balance his perspective and prevents him from feeling defeated or worthless.
Most of us lead busy lives, and too often assume our children know that we love them and are proud of them simply because we "sing their praises" to others. We forget they may never have overheard us. Children need to be encouraged, respected, and told directly when we are pleased by their behavior. Remember to tell them you are pleased when they are kind, helpful, patient, and generous; when they carry out chores without complaint; when they are truthful even when the consequences won't be pleasant; and when they try even though they don't succeed. Specific and sincere praise not only builds confidence, but also reinforces the behaviors we want to shape. It takes little effort, and the rewards are great.