By Bobbi Jo Gaetz, B.Ed, M.Ed, R.Psych.
What we all want for our children is for them to be happy, confident, and independent. We want to raise individuals who will speak up when needed but to know when to listen and be quiet. Becoming confident takes practice! It does not always come naturally. Some are more reluctant to speak up or to take risks.
To help children develop confidence, especially social confidence, you can build their skills through practice by having your child:
- Ask questions – encourage your child at a young age to engage in situations that require them to ask questions of others or speak to new people. Examples include ordering for themselves, paying for items at the checkout, delivering or fetching something from the neighbor’s, etc.
- Have conversations – families can set aside specific times to engage in family conversations or debates. The dinner table is a good place to model good conversational skills such as asking questions of others to follow up on their statement. This also helps children learn that they do not always have to turn the conversation back to themselves, but can keep the focus on the other person, which really makes the other person in a conversation feel valued and listened to. Encourage children to ask questions of parents and siblings about their day such as the best part of their day and then follow up with more specific questions and comments.
- Provide scripts – if children do not know what to say in a situation or express concern, give them the words to say. If they are worried about doing something for the first time, have them practice at home with family members so that they will feel more confident.
- Let your child make decisions – your child can build confidence by deciding what to wear, for example. If you can provide choices regarding other situations, do so. However, some decisions will always be yours (e.g. bedtime).
- Expose your child to lots of activities – when kids have a passion for something, they develop confidence which carries over to be more successful in other areas.
- Encourage problem–solving – being able to negotiate and solve problems is a confidence-builder. When children are having issues with siblings, for example, step in and coach them to try to come up with a solution that works for both, such as using a timer to take turns. You will be surprised the creative ideas that children can come up with when given the opportunity.
Also, don’t rescue – we tend to want to rescue our kids when they are having difficulties. Instead, support them and let them know it is ok to “fail”, to feel sad, anxious, or angry. We want kids to take risks instead of feeling frozen and fearful of criticism. Coach, support, and praise any effort your child makes, even if they are not fully successful.
Finally, children learn from watching the adults in their lives. Model confidence, model positive self-talk, model positivity and optimism, and your child will follow.
Terri Apter, The Confident Child: Raising Children to Believe in Themselves.
Barbara Markway and Gregory Markway, Nurturing the Shy Child: Practical Help for Raising Confident and Socially Skilled Kids and Teens.
Ann E. Densmore and Margaret L. Bauman. Your Successful Preschooler: Ten Skills Children Need to Become Confident and Socially Engaged.
Chris Beaumont. Winners Can Be Made: Positive Parenting Strategies to Help Your Child Have Unshakable Self-Esteem, Get Better Grades, Be Physically Fit and Socially Confident.