It's amazing what a can-do attitude can do.
One of our most important roles as parents is to be cheerleaders for our children. When we root for them from the sidelines, display their artistic works on the fridge, and congratulate them on an improved report card, we help build their confidence.
Yet finding the right way to praise is just as important as the praise itself. "It's critical for children not to feel that their parents' affection is based solely on their achievements," says Dr. Patti Zomber, a Los Angeles psychologist for children and families. "Too often," she says, "parents expect kids to fit a certain role—a student or baseball pitcher, for example—but each child should be valued as a unique person with their own individual traits, talents, and contributions."
Our job is to show them that their efforts are as important as their achievements. "Make them realize that the key is for them to do their personal best. Of course, it's important to say, 'Great—you won the game!' but don’t make that the only praise you give," Dr. Zomber says. Congratulate them on what they did well along the way and help them see what they still need to work on. "Perfection should not be the goal."
You have the power to turn disappointments into valuable learning opportunities. A child who dwells on mistakes may not want to try again, but a child who is praised and encouraged about her progress rather than just the outcome will go on to develop a can-do spirit.
"Giving children the freedom to make choices is a great way to motivate them and build confidence in their abilities as well as their power to influence events," adds Dr. Zomber. After all, one of life’s most fulfilling experiences for a child is to be able to say, "Look Mom, I did it myself!"
Classic confidence builders
Here’s how to build a can-do spirit at every stage.
Ages 2 to 5
Letting preschoolers dress themselves is one of the first big steps toward independence. Make it easy for your child by laying out two acceptable outfits and letting them choose which to wear.
Ages 6 to 8
Children this age are able to solve some of their own problems, so resist the urge to jump in right away with a solution. If your child has a fight with a friend, ask what he or she thinks might work to patch things up, then praise the result.
Ages 9 to 12
"Older kids gain confidence whenever they make a contribution to the family," Dr. Zomber says. Let preteens pick a night to be in charge of family entertainment, such as a bike ride to a nearby park or a cookie baking marathon. You can offer suggestions if asked, but let them take the lead. Simply having you following their directions will be an instant ego-booster.
Scoring athletic confidence
Confidence comes from constantly being told, "I know you can do it!" And then, "Great job! You did it!" says Steve Connaughton, a teacher, coach, and member of the Nestlé Family Advisory Panel. Connaughton also offers this advice:
- Be positive. "Children know what they did wrong, and after the game it's the last thing they want to be reminded of," Connaughton says. It's better to say, "Good try. You worked hard out there," and then set up a time to practice together to help your child improve even further.
- Stress strengths. "Our job as parents is to boost egos, not deflate them," says Connaughton. When working on your child’s game, set easily attainable goals, such as how to pass or shoot more accurately.
- Talk teamwork. "Remind your child that every player on the team has a valuable role. Someone who gets less playtime but has a great spirit is as important to the outcome of the game as a stronger athlete," Connaughton says.
Painting pictures of confidence
"Whether your child is a pint-size Picasso or an occasional doodler, what counts is enjoying the creative process," says Maria Hildreth-Stephenson, a school art teacher and member of the Nestlé Family Advisory Panel. She suggests:
- Cherish individuality. Don’t expect your child’s artwork to look like a classmate’s. "Give them freedom to experiment," she says.
- Fine-tune feedback. When your child shows you a creation, ask her to tell you about the story depicted. Your interest will motivate her
- Hang it up. "This simple gesture gives your child a shot of self-esteem," says Hildreth-Stephenson.