What can we do to develop self-confidence in children?

This blog post has been originally written for ParentEdge, a leading Parenting magazine in India. It has been reproduced on the Author’s blog with permission. 

I was sitting by the poolside, children of all age-groups splashing around in the summer sun and warm water, guided by their respective coaches. Something one of the coaches spoke aloud to one of the mums there, triggered my thought and hence my post. He said to the 5-year-old’s mother “Acha confidence hai, tabhi seekh raha hai.” (He has a good confidence level and therefore is learning).

I had been listening to miserable crying, howling, screaming and yelling by both children and mothers for the past one month. Fear of the deep side of the pool grips young children and teens alike. Most parents seemed to be keen on their children learning to swim. None of the children seemed interested. In fact, most were quite unhappy to even be there! Let’s ask why? Maybe because a small number are genuinely not water bodies. They do not like to splash around and are not very keen on spending so much energy! What about the rest? What is it that is missing? The curiosity to learn something new?The adventure of going into the deep water? The need to conquer the fear they feel? Do they not realize the high they will experience after having achieved what they targeted? Have they learned how to harness their inner strength to complete a task?

So where do we begin….when is it that we specifically think about Self-Confidence as a survival skill in today’s world rather than just a social skill or life skill? If you reflect upon your experience as a parent, you will realize there is no good or apt time to start. There are normal, real-life situations that help us create an environment for them to learn this quality. We build these for our children so they can adapt to skills like problem-solving, and developing grit and resilience under controlled conditions (without them realizing it of course!). And we can start as early as infancy. The mobile hanging on top of your child’s bed and the act of him reaching out for it is learning in itself! Have you not seen him cry after some time? It is because he made it his occupation to try and clutch it. Tried, tried very hard. And when didn’t succeed, got frustrated. Starting to crawl or walk. Place something not too far or near and observe what happens. There is no child that does not have an inherent curiosity about it. He is bound to move towards it. Our role as parents and what we do next will determine how he feels about himself! Help him achieve his target. Be happy for him. Share his joy when he clutches the toy in his hand. Hug him, kiss him. If he is not able to get to it, and this happens too many times, he is bound to give up. He will learn to connect to the feeling of “giving up.”

As he grows, so will his ability to think. To rationalize, to set his own achievable goals. Our role will be to help him step out of his comfort zone. To feel the fear and yet know somewhere deep down, “I can do it, I know how to do it.” The idea is to focus not on the Learning, but on the process of Learning. Once a skill is mastered, he will learn to nurture his curiosity, his ability to learn and will challenge himself.

Another way to get your child out of his comfort zone is to always set achievable targets. For the task at hand, what you think he can do will always differ from what he thinks he can do. Let him decide what he can do (at first). Once he achieves it, he knows he can aim for more. Also, it is fruitless to compare what he can do with what other children can do. Others will be better or worse than him. How do you tell him whom to compare to and who not to? Also if you keep comparing him to someone who is better at something is there not a chance of him internalizing that he is not good at anything at all, there is always someone better than him? So, is it not better to compare what he is today with what he was yesterday?

Try it. If you have an infant or young child, you are still ahead in the game. If you have older children, communication, communication, and communication will help build trust in the self. You as a parent will do everything to help him go that extra mile but eventually the desire to go that mile has to come from within the child.

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