We all want to raise our children to be strong and confident. So what can we do as parents to ensure that our kids see the best in themselves?
It starts with self-efficacy, which is a child’s belief in his or her ability to learn, do or perform.
“One of the ways parents can start developing self-efficacy early on is by providing a warm, sensitive caregiving, and stimulating environment,” states Dr. Holly Schiffrin, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington.
“Children with warm, sensitive caregivers develop secure attachments to their parents and are more likely to explore their environments. Having a stimulating environment allows children the opportunity to explore their environments so that they can fulfill their natural curiosity and master tasks. Children also learn self-efficacy by watching their parents and their peers. Parents need to model how to try new things, persist in the face of difficulty and cope with failure.”
Boys and girls develop self-confidence by achievements both big and small. Parents can support that in children of any age by praising efforts or new abilities, whether it’s offering positive words to toddlers who learn to brush their teeth on their own or put their clothes in the hamper, or children who learn to ride a bike or master a new skill or milestone in school or at home.
“Self-confidence comes from mastery of a skill and feeling like they are contributing to their family or team,” says Dr. Suzanne Richman, a pediatrician with KidsChoice Pediatrics in Spotsylvania. “Feeling like they are a valued member of their family makes them feel confident and feel good about themselves.”
Moms and dads should offer their kids opportunities to practice new skills and succeed, allowing them to make mistakes on their own as they master what they are trying to accomplish. As they grow older, provide more responsibility.
“You want to push them a little bit out of their comfort zone,” Richman says. “Nothing too extreme, but small challenges.”
Praise children for their efforts and avoid belittling or criticizing.
At home, parents can encourage toddlers to assist them with loading the dishwasher or picking up toys, and older children with cooking or cleaning. At school, encourage children to challenge themselves on a class assignment or try out for a new club or activity.
“Helping them find things they enjoy doing and are good at doing, whether it is drawing or dancing, makes a huge difference in how they feel about themselves and their self-confidence,” says Richman.
The key is to allow children to do for themselves what they are capable of doing on their own and to make their own decisions, within reason. Schiffrin says moms and dads who do the opposite “are actually undermining their competence by doing things for them that they can do for themselves. Research has found that parents who support their children’s autonomy—allow their children to make choices and assist their children in developing personal values and interests—is associated with better social and academic outcomes as well as greater well-being.”
Some helpful books for raising confident kids include:
The Confident Child: Raising Children to Believe in Themselves by Teri Apter
A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids by Dr. Jenn Berman
Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Laura Markham
Raising Confident Girls by Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer
Raising Confident Boys by Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer