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Confidence in Children

Tips for raising a can-do kid

Sitting across the table from my Aunt and Uncle at a post-funeral lunch my Aunt blurts out "I wish my daughter was more confident." Hmm I think. Her 8 year old seems happy but shy. There's nothing wrong with being shy but I understand her wish for her daughter to really emerge from childhood feeling confident. So I began thinking what is confidence? What is the root causes of confidence? How can we nurture it?


Confidence actually can be derived from its Latin roots to be explained as "with trust" or "with faith" or "with belief" which appears correct. A confident child displays a belief in his or her own abilities. Such a belief is developed over time but hinges upon the ability to experience self-trust. So how much can a parent nurture such qualities in his or her child?

I would say greatly! Children develop as a complex interplay between their internal and external environment. Parents play an enormous role in a child's world. Children naturally look up to their parents for guidance, feeling good and learning how to behave and believe in this world. Some key points to nurture self-trust and confidence in a child are:

  • Mirror back to a child his or her positive qualities. For example, "I am very impressed with your painting Jill" or "Wow, you are quite skilled putting that puzzle together." Consistent mirroring plants the seeds of confidence.
  • Endless Encouragement. This is a simple idea but challenging for many parents. For example, I was interviewed on a radio show yesterday and my Host told me that he was not supportive of his son's wish to pursue music as a career. What? The role of nurturing a happy child is one of endless encouragement and believing in their dreams. Listen, their dreams will change but they'll never forget how you made them feel.
  • Extend Trust. Children pick up on how you feel about them. As you extend trust to your child, they begin extending it to themselves. For example, you want the front of the house to look nice. You give the job to ten-year old Sally. You explain to her she is free to make it look nice any way she sees fit (i.e. planting flowers, raking, painting the fence or other). You also explain that if she needs help you are available.
  • Self as Skilled. Children need to see their own skills and feel like they can do it. For example, Johnny took piano lessons and began playing more advanced songs quickly. The end of year concert earned him piano medals and it increased his ability to feel good about those skills and himself as a whole. He now plays much more easily in front of others.

Challenged children

Is every child capable of feeling confident? Yes. Are their situations where the cards are stacked against them? Yes. Unfortunately too many children (1 in 5) grow up in situations where they have experienced trauma, abuse or maltreatment. If this is the case a child has a little extra work to feel well and then develop self-confidence. The good news it is always possible. With mentoring, education, therapy and creative programs so many children have learned how to feel good about their skills and eventually trust their abilities.

Faith, belief and trust

Confidence is built upon the ability to begin seeing oneself as skilled. A child's confidence is accelerated when parents or adults place their trust and belief in a child. A child will then mirror internally those beliefs. Step by step and day by day a child develops his or her own self-confidence. So many famous individuals have explained that it is confidence that has propelled them to their level of success. Listen to a few here:

"Getting ahead in a difficult profession requires avid faith in yourself" - Sophia Loren

"Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement"
- Golda Meir

"Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit" - E.E. Cummings

© Maureen Healy
Permission must be granted by the author for use on web sites and for outside publishing. or @mdhealy

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