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- One of the most important parts of parenting is showing a child how to be confident.
- But you may be confused as to how to raise a child who has high self-esteem.
- It starts with complimenting their efforts, talking openly about their emotions, and letting them know it’s okay to make mistakes.
Confidence is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child.
Carl Pickhardt, a psychologist and author of 15 parenting books, told Business Insider that a kid who lacks confidence will be reluctant to try new or challenging things because they’re scared of failing or disappointing others.
This can end up holding them back later in life and prevent them from having a successful career.
“The enemies of confidence are discouragement and fear,” he told Business Insider.
Luckily, confidence is something you can encourage even in a child’s earliest years. With “emotional coaching,” Terri Apter, psychologist and author of seven books on family, wrote that parents can raise children who are comfortable with solving problems, managing their emotions, and socializing.
Here are 21 more tips for raising a confident child, from Pickhardt, Apter, and other child psychologists.
Appreciate effort no matter if they win or lose
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Applauding your child’s effort is more important than what they actually did, Pickhardt said.
Whether they manage to score the winning goal or kick it out of bounds, your child shouldn’t be embarrassed for trying.
“Over the long haul, consistently trying hard builds more confidence than intermittently doing well,” he said.
Encourage practice to build competence
Encourage your child to invest lots of time in whatever it is they’re interested in, Pickhardt said. As they improve at the task at hand, they’ll become more confident in their growing abilities.
Don’t distinguish between activities that seem practical, like building robots, over, say, starting a rock band. Discouraging certain activities over others can make a child feel like their interests aren’t important.
Let them figure out problems by themselves
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If you do the hard work for your child, they’ll never develop the abilities or the confidence to figure out problems on their own.
“Parental help can prevent confidence derived from self-help and figuring out on the child’s own,” Pickhardt said.
In other words, better that your child gets a few B’s and C’s rather than straight A’s, so long as they are actually learning how to solve the problems and do the work.
Help them understand that they can’t be friends with everyone
“If one relationship doesn’t work out, then others will because I am generally capable of making good friends, and I’ll keep succeeding in the future.”
This is one of the core beliefs of a confident child, Apter wrote in “The Confident Child: Raising Children to Believe in Themselves.”
Note that it’s not an assumption that everyone will love them and want to be their friend, but rather that they will get along with some people and not with others. It’s okay if a friendship doesn’t pan out.
Sometimes a child’s endless stream of questions can be tiresome, but Paul Harris of Harvard University said it’s important for a child’s development.
“The child has to first realise that there are things they don’t know … that there are invisible worlds of knowledge they have never visited,” Harris, who studies developmental psychology, told The Guardian.
And curiosity is linked to the development of self-confidence, as well as other traits like persistence, self-control, grit, and conscientiousness, as Paul Tough wrote in the book “How Children Succeed.”
Give them new challenges
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Show your child that they can make and accomplish small goals to reach a big accomplishment.
Let them try riding a bike for a few feet without training wheels, leading up to the child being able to take a spin around the block without fear of falling over.
“Parents can nurture confidence by increasing responsibilities that must be met,” Pickhardt said.
Never criticize their performance
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Nothing will discourage your child more than criticizing his or her efforts. Giving useful feedback and making suggestions is fine – but never tell them they’re bad at something.
If your kid is scared to fail because they worry you’ll be angry or disappointed, they’ll never try new things.
“More often than not, parental criticism reduces the child’s self-valuing and motivation,” Pickhardt said.
Treat mistakes as building blocks for learning
“Learning from mistakes builds confidence,” Pickhardt said. But this only happens when you, as a parent, treat mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Don’t be over-protective of your child. Allow them to mess up every now and then, and help them understand how they can better approach the task next time.
And, if your child learns to be okay with failure instead of avoiding it, they’ll already have a lot in common with trailblazers like Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple.
“If you start fearing things, then you don’t try anything new or different,” Cook said. “If it doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of my world. I’ll go ride my bike.”
Open the door to new experiences
Pickhardt said you as a parent have a responsibility to “increase life exposures and experiences so the child can develop confidence in coping with a larger world.”
That doesn’t mean you have to send them on a five-week trip out of the country. It can be as simple as trying shrimp for the first time or teaching them how to ski.
Exposing children to new things teaches them that no matter how scary and different something seems, they can conquer it.
Emphasize that poor performance might be because of poor preparation — not an inherent lack of talent
Your kid gets a bad mark on their spelling test. How do they respond?
Apter wrote that a child with high self-esteem will say, “I didn’t study enough” or “I didn’t pace myself.” A kid with low self-esteem will default into saying they’re bad at spelling, stupid, or hopeless.
Encourage the former, and give them the tools and support to spend more time preparing for subjects that they’ve preformed poorly in. Tell them that they can do better on the next test if they study harder, and that they can get a great score even if previous tests didn’t go so well.
And when they do well, compliment their effort — not the situation
On the other hand, let’s say they got a near-perfect score on a recent math test.
Apter wrote that in that ideal situation, you can encourage a response that fosters a high self-esteem.
A child with low self-esteem will say, “Oh, the test was easy. I got lucky.” Compliment their effort instead: “I bet the test was pretty hard, but you studied well.”
Teach them what you know how to do
You are your child’s hero – at least until they’re a teenager.
Use that power to teach them what you know about how to think, act, and speak. Set a good example, and be a role model.
Pickhardt said watching you succeed will help your child be more confident that they can do the same.
Guide them through setbacks
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Life is not fair – every child will have to learn that at some point.
When they do encounter hardships, Pickhardt said parents should point out how enduring these challenges will increase their resilience.
It’s important to remind your child that every road to success is filled with setbacks, he added.
Applaud their courage to try something new
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Whether it’s trying out for the travel basketball team or going on their first roller coaster, Pickhardt said parents should praise their kids for trying new things. He suggests saying something as simple as, “You are brave to try this!”
“Comfort comes from sticking to the familiar; courage is required to dare the new and different,” he said.
Be authoritative, but not too forceful or strict
When parents are too strict or demanding, the child’s confidence to self-direct can be reduced.
“Dependence on being told can keep the child from acting bold,” Pickhardt said.
Offer your help and support, but not too much of it
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Giving too much assistance too soon can reduce the child’s ability for self-help, Pickhardt said.
“Making parental help contingent on the child’s self-help first can build confidence.”
Don’t tell them when you’re worried about them
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It’s natural to worry about your child – but you don’t want to continually express that to them. Parental worry can often be interpreted by the child as a vote of no confidence, Pickhardt said.
“Expressing parental confidence engenders the child’s confidence.”
Avoid creating short cuts or making exceptions for your child
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Of course you want the best for your child. But the parent who begs the school teacher to give their kid extra credit or a boost in their grade isn’t doing their child any favors.
In fact, Pickhardt said lavishing special treatment can communicate a lack of confidence: “Entitlement is no substitute for confidence.”
Talk about your child’s emotions with them
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A child with high self-esteem is comfortable with their emotions, Apter wrote. They can discuss how they feel and understand that it’s okay to feel badly sometimes.
You can encourage that approach and set an example by talking about your own emotions with them, your partner, your other children, and so on.
If they act out or seem upset, ask them why they feel that way – don’t just tell them to get over it or calm down.
Let them act their age
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Don’t expect your child to act like an adult, or to be beating age milestones way beyond their years.
“When a child feels that only performing as well as parents is good enough, that unrealistic standard may discourage effort,” Pickhardt said. “Striving to meet advanced age expectations can reduce confidence.”
Celebrate the excitement of learning
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Kids look to their parents for how they should react to things. So if you get excited about them learning how to swim, or speaking a new language, then they’ll be excited about those things too.
“Learning is hard work and, when accomplished, creates confidence to learn more, so celebrate this willingness to grow,” Pickhardt said.
Natalie Walters and Jacquelyn Smith contributed to a previous version of this article.