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Tips for Parents: Confidence | PDF

Español/Spanish: Consejos para padres - La confianza

For your children, confidence means their belief that they will succeed at any given task or goal. Children without confidence in their ability to succeed, usually don’t try because they feel it will just be wasted effort. Not trying leads to failure, and their original belief becomes true. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Because of the way confidence works, it’s important that children learn to believe in themselves early.

Here's what you can do to help your child build confidence:

Look for things your child is doing well and praise them regularly.  Try to "catch" them following the rules, doing their homework, cleaning their room or helping a sibling.

Show your child you believe in their ability.  Pay attention to the comments you make to your child.  Comments such as, "I'm not surprised, you always do badly" or regularly telling your child that they are bad, naughty, messy, sloppy, dumb or slow goes a long way in defining how they feel about themselves.  Call your child only positive names, and point out behaviors that are a problem rather than making the child believe they are the problem.  Tell them "I knew you would do well!"  or, "That's great, I can tell you've been working hard and now we can see the results."

Always begin with a positive.  If your child shows you a completed homework assignment or test score, begin with a praise first.  If you believe the child could have done better, say so, but only after you've started with a positive.  For example: "I see that you took time to write neatly, that's great!"  Then pause for a second to give them time to absorb your comment.   Then continue, "I've seen you do better work on previous math assignments.  Did you have trouble with this one?"  Listen to their reasons and try to help them troubleshoot the issue.

Children know when you give them false praise, so don't pretend poor work is good or flatter your child.  All children do some things right.  Take the time to notice this and give them real praise.

Some children have difficulty absorbing positive comments.  When you notice your child doing something well, say so.  Then watch them carefully.  Do they smile and say "thanks"?  Or do they try to deflect the comment by saying something negative such as "My friend does much better" or "It was just a dumb assignment..."  If accepting a positive comment is difficult, it may be an indicator that the child has low self esteem.  Make an appointment with your child's school counselor for some tips to help them improve how they feel about themself.  Also take a look at your own behavior.  Do you accept praise well?

Some children get frustrated when they make mistakes, even if, overall, they do very well.  This fear of making a mistake can make a child avoid trying something they're not confident they'll do perfectly.  If this is the case with your child, regularly take the opportunity to help them understand that learning is a process, and making mistakes is very important.  Tell them that mistakes are normal and OK.  It can be useful to demonstrate this in your own life as an example to your child.  When you make a mistake, say so outloud in front of your child.  Then let them hear you using some positive self talk, such as "Oh no, I made an error in my checkbook, and now my balance is wrong.  Well, that's OK, everyone makes mistakes.  I think next time I'll save my receipts so I don't forget to write down a purchase."  Show them how mistakes are a learning opportunity.

For information on helping your children build confidence:

Apter, Terri. “The Confident Child: Raising Children to Believe in Themselves.” W. W. Norton, 2006.

Leman, Kevin. “Bringing Up Kids Without Tearing Them Down: How To Raise Confident, Successful Children”. Nelson Books, 2001.

You may also find thes Tips for Parents helpful:

Tips for Parents: Home is the First School

Tips for Parents: Student Self Esteem

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