Self-confidence is an integral part of social interactions such as making friends, competition and sharing. Educator Kerry McArthur gives you pointers on how to raise a self-confident child.

Confidence is believing in yourself and what you can achieve. It includes the way you behave in various circumstances, and how you react to challenges that you may encounter. A child who is confident wants to explore and learn, is willing to take on new activities, and expects others to join in. A self-confident child will also always expect a good outcome from relationships, and won’t feel threatened by having to interact with others.

Self-confidence, under the right circumstances, will start developing naturally and will progress with age. Through nurturing, love and encouragement, a child will start realising her natural strengths and what makes her special. The people who care for the child are instrumental in this.

The first three years are crucial in getting this development going, so let’s look at a hypothetical case, in the form of Jenni.
As a tiny new baby, Jenni will cry and immediately be cuddled and comforted by a parent. This teaches her that she is loved and important to the family. When Jenni starts to crawl and pull herself up, immediately she is praised and celebrated. She is now learning that she is a problem solver and is able to conquer obstacles. When Jenni is two years old she can’t reach her bunny on the bookshelf, so she grabs her little chair and climbs onto it, stretching until she is able to reach it. Her mom is surprised, as she was sure she had put it away, but realising what has happened, Mom praises her and allows her to play for a while. Jenni realises that her needs and interests are important, and she is supported in this.

Jenni is now just over three, and upset because her parents are going on a date night and they have the cheek to go without her, leaving her with Granny. She is upset and crying, but Mom and Dad take the time to comfort her and make sure that she is okay before they leave. This shows her that her feelings are important and that people will respond to her when she is upset.
This is a simple example, but it demonstrates how easily self-confidence develops in a child. Here are some further steps you can take.

Plan, plan and plan some more

Allow your child to understand what you expect from her in a certain situation: explain what you will be doing and what she needs to do. An example would be that before you go to a birthday party, you can explain what is going to happen, who is going to be there, and explain details. For example, tell her she can carry the present in to give to the birthday girl, you are all going to sing to the birthday girl, and so on. This affords her the opportunity to prepare for the event and be confident when walking into a strange environment.

Baby steps

If your child gets easily flustered or often becomes overwhelmed, start by introducing small, familiar groups and use this time to guide her on how best to react, share and play with others. As she starts feeling more confident and relaxed, you can expand the group.

Don’t push

By pushing your child to be more involved, do more and do better, you might just be doing the opposite. Allow for gradual improvement, make sure that she understands that you are there for her and that she is safe. Encourage her, but don’t force it.

Don’t be a helicopter

Allow your child to explore and make mistakes; allow her to fall down every once in a while and then pick herself up again. I often say, “She will only do it incorrectly the first time. Next time she will know not to jump off the higher step.” Give her a gentle nudge and encourage her to explore and discover things for herself without you getting involved all the time.

Encourage and compliment

Recognise each achievement, regardless of how small it is. Words make a huge difference and praising your child for little things makes for a lot of confidence. Remember to also praise her publicly: allow her to see that you are proud of her even when other people are around.

Above all, dole out lots and lots of love, don’t stress the small things, allow her to make mistakes, but don’t dwell on these, praise the little things and the big things, make her understand how much you love and appreciate her for who she is and what she can do.

Remember the FAIL acronym, which simply stands for: First Attempt In Learning.

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