The roots of self-confidence are born or broken in childhood. Early experiences shape our sense of self. It is often just little words that wound kids or empower their dreams. So having a heightened awareness as to the enormous power of your words and communication to kids is essential for fostering confidence in children.
Confidence literally means "with trust" or "with faith" and this seems correct to me. A confident child demonstrates self-trust in his or her abilities. Such confidence is developed over time but it is shaken or supported by the surrounding adults. Cultivating confidence in children takes time, effort and mindfulness. Some key tips are:
· Mirror - Mirror back to your child his or her strengths, skills and qualities that create a positive view of self. Julie, age 5, played "Mary had a little lamb" by memory on my piano last week. Every child in the room was happy and excited to sing along. Soon Julie's mom made her way to Julie and said "Thank you Sweetheart! You are so talented" and so quickly did you see Julie's confidence soar.
· Encourage - Every child needs encouragement. It is encouragement that actually enables a child to risk becoming more and believing in him or her self. Not long ago I watched Joshua ride his bicycle for the first time without training wheels along with his Dad's encouragement! His positive sense of self was palpable.
· Extend Trust - Extend trust to your child. Let him or her know that you believe in their abilities. For example, Erin volunteered to make the salad for her family. She was a little nervous but had watched her mother make it almost nightly. Instead of micromanaging her, Erin's mom said, "I trust you to make a great salad!" Although this sounds like an itty-bitty thing to a child it's a positive emotional message being sent to her. She begins creating positive self-thoughts such as "I can do it" and "I am capable."
· Let them "Show Off" - Give your child an opportunity to show you and others their skills. It may be doing summersaults, singing, hula hoping or completing a complicated puzzle all alone. Whatever the skill give your child a chance to shine!
· View mistakes as gifts - Like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stated, "There are no mistakes, no coincidences. Just gifts given to us to learn from" and I believe this to be true. Helping a child shape a worldview where mistakes are not only expected but accepted as necessary parts of his or her growth is essential - it helps them feel good regardless of whether they fail or succeed at a task.
· Praise them - Praise your child and not necessarily what they do. A common mistake in parenting is to solely focus on what your child does (i.e. plays violin, gets good grades) versus who your child is in this moment. Children grow confidence from feeling good about who they are on the inside and trusting whoever they are is good, capable, smart and able to face whatever life presents them (i.e. bully or a best friend).
· Be Confident - Children imprint what they see and look to model the behavior of the honored people in their life. So working on being the confident adult that you are (or can become!) will enormously help develop this quality in your child.
Simple but not easy
Saying all the right things to children isn't always easy. It takes effort and mindfulness. Some straightforward things that undermine a child's confidence are listed below. Please avoid the following:
· Harsh Criticism
· Questioning Them (constantly)
· Praising Solely Actions (not them)
· Discouraging Exploration
· Comparing them to other kids
Each of these may sound so obvious but it does take mindfulness and awareness in what you say as well as the nonverbal communication that you send to your child (i.e. emotions, body language). I am a firm believer that children digest the words and feelings all around them like food.
Confidence as Core
"Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy," explained Norman Vincent Peale. I believe this to be true. Confidence is a prerequisite to pursuing your dreams, believing in your talents and paving your unique path of highest potential. So mindfully cultivating self-confidence in children is really giving them a foundation upon which their own happiness can grow!