Now Is the Right Time!
As a parent, you play an essential role in your child’s success. There are intentional ways to grow a healthy parent-child relationship while building a sense of confidence in your child that they can work toward their goals and succeed in school and life.
Confidence simply means belief in self. But where does that confidence come from? It begins with a trusting relationship you work to cultivate with your child. The bond you have with your child forms a solid foundation from which your child can explore the world.
Children ages 5-10 will need to build their social and emotional skills. In fact, as children develop their social and emotional skills, they will also build their sense of confidence. So, as a parent, you can foster confidence through your relationship with your child and by focusing your attention on helping your child grow social and emotional skills. Confidence is…
- Self-awareness, or your child’s deepening sense of who they are, understanding their strengths and limitations.
- Self-management, or your child learning to manage their emotions constructively.
- Social awareness, or your child’s ability to see from another’s perspective and to empathize with others.
- Relationship skills, or your child’s capacity to initiate, grow, and sustain healthy relationships with parents, teachers, friends, and others.
- Responsible decision making, or your child’s ability to reflect – before choosing words or actions – on the consequences in order to not cause harm.
Yet, we all face challenges in building confidence. “I can’t do it!” your child may exclaim in frustration over math homework. While children may get frustrated and upset with themselves, mistakes and even failures are a necessary part of their learning and development. Confident children are not perfect. They simply know how to learn from their mistakes with your guidance and support. Mistakes do not define who they are.
The key to many parenting challenges, like building confidence, is finding ways to communicate so that both your needs and your child’s needs are met. The steps below include specific, practical strategies along with effective conversation starters to prepare you.
Whether it’s your five-year-old confiding in you that they fear they’ll never learn to read, your second grader crying that they have no real friends, or your nine-year-old hiding homework to avoid facing it, establishing regular ways to build a trusting connection along with teaching your child vital skills will build confidence.
Today, in the short term, building confidence can create:
- greater opportunities for connection, cooperation, and enjoyment;
- trust in each other that we have the competence to manage our relationships and responsibilities; and
- a sense of wellbeing and motivation to engage.
Tomorrow, in the long term, building confidence in your child:
- develops a sense of safety, security, and a belief in self;
- builds skills in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making; and
- deepens family trust and intimacy.
This five-step process helps you and your child build confidence. It also builds important critical life skills in your child. The same process can be used to address other parenting issues as well (learn more about the process).
These steps are best done when you and your child are not tired or in a rush.
Step 1. Get Your Child Thinking by Getting Their Input
You can get your child thinking about building confidence by asking them open-ended questions. You’ll help prompt your child’s thinking. You’ll also begin to better understand their thoughts, feelings, and challenges related to how they feel when confronting challenges so that you can address them. In gaining input, your child:
- has a greater stake in anything they’ve designed themself (and with that sense of ownership, comes a greater responsibility for solving their own problems);
- has more motivation to work together and cooperate because of their sense of ownership;
- will be working in collaboration with you on making informed decisions (understanding the reasons behind those decisions) about critical aspects of their life; and
- will grow their self-control and problem-solving skills.
Consider situations where your child’s sense of confidence needs work – in school, making new friends, keeping friends?
For example, if your child does not feel confident with learning challenges at school, consider the following.
- Start exploring the issue by building on past successes. Consider together how their past successes can support their current struggles. Questions you could ask include:
- “Remember last year when you had to write your first essay? How did you feel at the start? In the middle? How did you feel when you finished and the teacher liked it?”
- “What helped you get through that learning challenge?”
If your child is feeling insecure in making or keeping friends consider the following.
- Ask key questions first about the specific issue to really understand what’s challenging for your child. Then, explore and reflect on ways to help by asking questions like:
- “How can you start up a conversation with a classmate?”
- “What does a good friend act, say, or do?”
- “How can you act in ways that will be a good friend to others?”
Step 2. Teach New Skills by Interactive Modeling
As parents, it’s easy to forget that children are learning to perform typical tasks along with learning about school subjects and how to be a good friend. Because of all of this learning, your child will make mistakes and poor choices. How we handle those moments can determine how we help build their confidence. Learning about developmental milestones can help a parent better understand what their child is going through. Here are some examples:
- Five-year-olds are working on understanding rules and routines. Consistency helps them feel a sense of stability.
- Six-year-olds may be more apt to question your rules. They thrive on encouragement. They can become critical of others and may need experience with kindness and inclusion.
- Seven-year-olds crave structure and may struggle with changes to the schedule. They may be moody and require reassurance from adults.
- Eight-year-olds are more resilient when they make mistakes. Their peers’ and teachers’ approval is very important.
- Nine-year-olds can become easily frustrated; they need directions that contain one instruction. They may worry about peer approval and their own appearance and interests.
- Ten-year-olds are developing a strong sense of right and wrong and fairness. They tend to be able to work through conflicts with friends more rapidly.
Teaching is different than just telling. Teaching builds basic skills, grows problem-solving abilities, and sets your child up for success. Teaching also involves modeling and practicing the positive behaviors you want to see, promoting skills, and preventing problems.
- Cultivate a learning mindset. In addition to cultivating these essential skills that lead your children to feel confident, there are beliefs and attitudes that you can promote to contribute to your child’s belief in themself.
- For example, when your child says “I can’t do it!” respond with:
- “You can learn anything with time, practice, and hard work.”
- “You can meet or overcome any challenge with time, practice, and hard work.”
- “Remember that time you did do it even when you thought you couldn’t?”
- Or, for example, if your child says “No one likes me!” you can respond with: “You know how to be a good friend (share specific examples). Your classmates will want to be friends with you because of the ways you are a good friend.”
- Or, for example, if your child says “You hate me!” or “You don’t care!” you can respond: “I always love you, and I always care no matter what. Sometimes your choices upset me, but my love never changes.”
- For example, when your child says “I can’t do it!” respond with:
- Create a sign together for your homework space that reads “Mistakes are part of learning.”
- Set expectations ahead of time that they will make mistakes. It is a normal part of the learning process. Homework is an important time when children struggle with meeting their academic challenges and may melt down in frustration.
- Teach the essential brain break. When frustrated, walk away, get fresh air, get a drink of water, and take a moment before returning.
- Teach additional coping strategies.
- Brainstorm a list of possible ways to cope with upset, stress, or disappointment; such as take deep breaths, draw, stretch, count to 50, and more.
- Post the list in the homework space to refer back to it when needed.
- Teach your child about self-talk. Although adults are aware of the voices playing regularly in their heads, children are not, even though they are influenced by them. Raise your child’s awareness.
- Look for a moment when you notice your child is telling themself a negative message like “I can’t do it.”
- Use reflective listening for the unspoken message such as,
- “I can see that you are telling yourself you can’t do it, is that right?”
- “Telling yourself you can’t do it can hurt your chance of meeting your goal.”
- “How can we turn that message around to help you?”
- Ask and invite your child to think about how to reframe that self-talk.
- Reinforce your child’s response if it is positive, or provide ways to frame thinking in the positive such as, “I know if I work hard at this, I can figure it out.”
- Practice the new language together.
- Provide specific feedback when you see your child using that new language using “I notice…”
Don’t fix your child’s mistakes. If you spot errors on his homework, unless your child invites your support and input, leave it and allow your child to learn from those mistakes.
Step 3. Practice to Grow Skills, Confidence, and Develop Habits
Your daily routines can be opportunities for your child to practice new vital skills if you seize those chances. With practice, your child will improve over time as you give them the chance with support. Practice grows vital new brain connections that strengthen (and eventually form habits) each time your child works hard toward a goal or demonstrates belief in themself.
Practice also provides important opportunities to grow self-efficacy – a child’s sense that they can do a task successfully. This leads to confidence. It will also help them understand that mistakes and failures are part of learning.
- Allow your child the chance to take steps to meet their big challenges, taking responsibility for their own tasks or relationships – even when you know you could do it faster and better.
- Be sure and consider how you can create the conditions to support their success (like creating a quiet, organized environment with school tools at the ready in which they can complete their homework).
- Initially, practice may require more teaching but avoid taking over and doing it for your child.
Step 4. Support Your Child’s Development and Success
At this point, you’ve taught your child how to meet their challenges with skill and persistence, and you are allowing them to practice so they can learn how to do those new tasks well and independently. Now, you can offer support when it’s needed by reteaching, monitoring, and coaching. Parents naturally offer support as they see their child fumble with a situation in which they need help. This is no different.
By providing support, you are reinforcing their ability to be successful, helping them grow cause and effect thinking (as they address problems and failures), and helping them grow in taking responsibility.
- Initially, your child may need active support. Use “Show me…” statements and ask them to demonstrate how they can work hard toward a goal. When a child learns a new skill, they are eager to show it off! “Show me you can introduce yourself when we arrive at the playground.”
- Recognize effort by using “I notice…” statements like: “I noticed how you took a brain break and then, got back to your homework. That’s smart!”
- On days with extra challenges when you can see your child is frustrated or feeling incapable, proactively remind your child of their strength. In a gentle, non-public way, you can whisper in your child’s ear, “Remember how you introduced yourself last week to a new friend? How can you use that experience here?”
- Actively reflect on how your child is feeling when approaching challenges. You can ask questions like:
- “How are you feeling about your free time at school?” Offering a chance to talk about lunch and recess gives insight into your child’s social challenges.
- “Seems like you got frustrated with your homework and just stopped. Did your teacher mention that your homework was incomplete?” Be sure to reflect on outcomes of their choices.
Don’t move on or nag. Children often need more time to stick with a challenge or pursue a goal. Be sure to wait long enough for your child to show you they are competent. Your waiting could make all the difference in whether they are able to do what you need them to do.
Step 5. Recognize Effort and Quality to Foster Motivation
Though it is easy to forget, your attention is your child’s sweetest reward. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness and business of getting tasks accomplished in family life. But, if your child is working hard toward academic or friendship goals, it will be worth your while to recognize it. After all, your recognition can go a long way to promoting more of the same positive behaviors and expanding your child’s sense of competence and responsibility. You can add to your child’s motivation to work hard by the following actions.
- Recognize and call out when it is going well. It may seem obvious, but it’s easy not to notice when all is moving along smoothly. When children are completing their homework tasks on time, for example, a short, specific call out is all that’s needed: “I notice you completed your homework today on your own in the time we agreed upon. Yes! Excellent.”
- Recognize small steps along the way. Don’t wait for the big accomplishments – like a fear or insecurity to go away – in order to recognize effort. Remember that your recognition can work as a tool to promote more positive behaviors. Find small ways your child is making an effort and let them know you see them.
- Build celebrations into your routine. For example, if your child talks to a new classmate, offer a playdate or a simple after school snack together. If your child tackles math homework when you know they’re dreading it, recognize their effort. Include hugs, high fives, and fist bumps in your repertoire of ways to appreciate one another.
Avoid stickers, gifts, or other physical rewards for performance. These actually have a de-motivating effect on children. When you remove the candy, for example, have they internalized the skills and also the sense of responsibility for performing them? There’s less of a chance if you’ve offered a “bribe.” Focus on your attention as the best reward.
Be specific. “Good job” seems to not carry much meaning. However, a specific compliment about a pointed behavior – “You put your game away when you were finished; love seeing that!” – can promote more of the same.
If you focus only on outcomes – “You got your homework finished” – you miss the chance to influence the process. Instead, try something like – “You got started on time, took a brain break, and returned with focus to finish your work. Nice!”
Engaging in these five steps is an investment that builds your skills as an effective parent to use on many other issues and builds important skills that will last a lifetime for your child. Throughout this tool, there are opportunities for children to become more self-aware, to deepen their social awareness, to exercise their self-management skills, to work on their relationship skills, and to demonstrate and practice responsible decision making.