You support, you cheer, you encourage, and yet your kid seems to continue to lack confidence despite your best efforts. Are you failing as a parent? It may feel like that sometimes, but a breakthrough is just around the corner.
When you see your kid struggling day after day and week after week, it is tempting to doubt yourself. This doubt can turn into a shame-spiral: somehow you as your child’s support system are not enough. The reality is that you (the parent) are only one piece of the puzzle. Stop doubting yourself now!
Doubt is contagious and whether or not you voice these doubts out loud, your kids feel it. They sense the hesitation in your voice and the fear in your eyes and think, “uh oh, if the grown-up isn’t sure, then what chance do I have?”
Here’s the truth: you can be a complete beginner at the confidence game yourself and still boost your kid’s belief in themselves through the roof.
Your confidence struggles may actually be an advantage, because they give you insight into what your child is going through. You might be able to guess what they are saying to themselves, or what their fears and anxieties may be. When you challenge yourself to believe wholeheartedly in your ability to support the ones you love most in the world, you will place yourself squarely on the road to achieving just that.
Here are six keys to boosting your kid’s confidence that will guide your everyday parenting experiences, even if you feel like you are starting at the beginning.
1. Listen and Just Be
We are used to “doing” as a measure of achievement: our actions have effects on our kids, and the right actions can make us feel like we are succeeding as parents. We are not used to just being. Sometimes in our parenting, we feel as though in order to be successful, we have to DO more, when in reality we need to learn how to “just be”.
Something I wish that I had known from the beginning is that if you truly see and hear your kid on a daily basis, you will not fail! There will be moments when you watch your kid sit in their pain, disappointment, anxiety, depression and rejection and your heart will break. You may mistake these for failures but they are the exact opposite. If you are hearing what they are saying (and not saying), and truly witnessing what they’re feeling, you are right where you should be. Although watching our kids experience pain and being in that pain with them can feel awful, emotional discomfort is not failure.
It is important to be aware that not all forms of listening are equal. Listening while distracted or doing something else will not bring the same level of connection and reassurance that your child may be looking for. Using active listening techniques such as eye contact, nodding and mirroring emotions will be more helpful. A recent study from the University of Reading points out that the quality of listening makes a difference. Dr. Netta Weinstein, who co-led the study, says that “in parent-teenager relationships, quietly listening to a teenager while showing them they are valued and appreciated for their honesty has a powerful effect on their willingness to open up.” The way that you listen to your kid matters and it requires being present and engaged in only truly hearing them.Part of “just being” is resisting the urge to fix problems for kids. While it may spare both of you big feelings in the short term, in the long run handling tough moments is what builds confidence. Letting them know that you believe they have the power to navigate their way is the biggest gift you can give your kids. Being a consistent daily soundboard where your kid can process the events of the day and express their feelings, means that your kid isn’t alone with their problems. They learn that talking things out with a trusted adult can help them to move forward.
2. Daydream with them
It is easy for kids to feel like they will never be able to do more than they are doing right now. They may not know yet how easy it is to progress and grow with practice and hard work. One of the best ways to increase kids’ confidence is by helping them imagine the steps to move forward.
When kids start something new, the initial excitement might help them to overcome any opening obstacles. But as they encounter more challenges, they might need more reassurance as they begin to doubt that they can actually do what they set out to do.
If you see that your kid might be starting to lose their confidence, it is important that you remind them of the steps they need to take in order to cross the finish line. Make sure that they know you believe they can do it. Be their personal historian and take time to tell stories to your kid about how they overcame previous challenges. They may have forgotten how determined and resilient they can be.
Taking time to look into the future and imagine what could be helps kids to stay motivated. Having goals to work towards gives kids purpose, direction and the feeling that they have agency over what comes next. All of this builds confidence.
3. Model positive friendship practices
One of parents' biggest hopes for their kids is that they will make friends and have lots of great times and laughs together. We know that connections and friendship are an important part of how kids feel about themselves.
While it might be easy for parents to get caught up in kids’ friendship dramas, staying in a supportive but on-the-sidelines position is important if kids are going to become confident and relationship-savvy.
I know I am not alone when I say this. I have seen many instances when parents, triggered by their kid’s pain or their choice of friends, insert themselves into conflicts only to disempower kids and make friendship problems about their own feelings. As difficult as it is, kids need to hit friendship bumps, sort those resulting feelings, and take those actions on their own in order to grow their skills and experiences. As long as parents are there to listen and empathize, kids will learn to navigate their friendships and they will see that they are capable of problem solving and moving forward.
Playing a support role also means that you can share your own experiences and friendship fumbles with your kids when it’s helpful. You can also talk about how it is okay for them to set boundaries with their friends in order to feel like they have a safe and equal relationship. Try to model and point out what healthy relationships look like using adults in their life.
Remember that relationships are complex and kids will be learning for a long time. Your job is to be patient and supportive and continue to show and say that you think they deserve to have nurturing, reciprocal, healthy relationships. Always resist the urge to jump into their conflicts, knowing that whatever pain, tears or loneliness your kids experience will make them ultimately wiser, more empathetic, and more capable of navigating relationships.
4. Remind them to move, rest and recharge
When kids are young, parents spend a lot of time and effort trying to manage their energy levels because we quickly learn that low energy leads to challenging moods and behaviours. So we pack snacks, plan activities around their sleep schedules, and try to get them outside for fresh air. As kids grow up we start to shift this responsibility to them. We talk to our kids about the importance of being active, listening to their body cues and gut feelings about things, and managing feelings of stress.
There are many ways that kids can spend time moving their bodies every day: playing on the playground, walking, stretching, participating in sports, hiking and biking. Many kids have lots of energy and will be excited to get moving, while others will need some encouragement. Pointing out the benefits and praising their efforts will help kids who might feel some hesitation about moving to overcome their couch-potato ways.
While exercise is one very helpful way to boost kids’ energy levels, listening and reacting to their body cues in a timely way can also help them maintain a good energy level. Kids who notice that they are feeling thirsty and hydrate right away will not feel as lethargic as kids who sit in the heat and sweat without ever replenishing their liquids. Similarly, recognizing that they are beginning to feel hungry and fueling themselves with a healthy snack will prevent kids from feeling drained and “hangry.”
Not only do kids need to be aware of their physical cues, but they also need to learn to recognize, listen to and manage their emotions. Suppressing and getting stuck in emotions is draining. Teaching your kids to feel their feelings, process them, and move forward can be very energizing and empowering.
In a world where kids are sometimes overscheduled and running from one thing to the next, it is great to encourage kids to take regular downtime. It might mean laying down and reading a book or sitting outside feeding the birds. While naps are usual for younger kids to rest, having quiet, more meditative activities is good for older kids who need to recharge their batteries.
5. Encourage Creativity
Parents can help kids tap into their imagination by modeling creativity themselves by sharing their own hobbies and interests, and providing tools and time for kids to be creative. Meeting their creative attempts with interest, enthusiasm, and appreciation will make them feel more confident.
Our kids are always watching what we are doing. If parents take time to play music, paint, sketch, sculpt, or build, kids are likely to notice that. They will witness the enjoyment that comes from creating, and may want to try themselves. Many parents find that when their kids come along, their desires to be creative themselves might grow as they want to share the fun of painting, coloring, singing and dancing with their little ones as a way to connect.
It does not take much to spark kids’ creativity at a young age. Playing music, providing them with paper, crayons, markers, and paint, and making up stories are all easy ways to get kids to light up their artistic side. As they get older, it takes a more concerted effort to make sure that they still find time for these kinds of pursuits.
The way the people in their life respond to their creativity will make a huge difference in how they experience it. Being creative is a vulnerable experience and while kids make attempts to draw, make music, and sketch they will not always be happy with everything they create. Having parents who value their creative efforts and believe in their abilities will help them to tolerate failures, mistakes and missteps. It is important for parents to try to consistently meet their kids’ creativity with genuine curiosity and gratitude.
6. Rewrite Unhelpful Stories
Have you ever heard your child tell you a story about themselves that you know isn’t true? It can be frustrating to witness kids weaving a story that you know might limit their actions and keep them from trying. However, it is not uncommon for kids to try to protect themselves from risk. In doing so, they can also undermine their confidence. So what can we do when we hear our child creating a story that will ultimately hold them back?
There are 3 powerful steps we can take to prevent unhelpful stories from gaining traction. We can try to find out the origin of the thought and the feelings behind it, explore if our kids would like to change the story, and brainstorm what steps they could take in order to feel more confident.
When my daughter was about 5, she started saying that she was “not a reader.” As someone who believes strongly in the power of books, I was not prepared to let this story stand. So I started asking questions about why she thought that way. After all, we spent lots of time reading together and she was already recognizing lots of words.
It turns out that she was comparing herself to her sibling, two years older, who was reading beginner chapter books. She saw that her sister was reading independently and getting new and different books than herself and she thought this meant she wasn’t a good reader. She was feeling discouraged and decided that abandoning the idea of being a reader was the way to go.
In talking, I discovered that she did enjoy books and reading, she just felt behind. When I asked her what we could do to make her feel more like a reader, she said, “Having books that are just for me.” We picked out some new books that were just for her to read every night and soon she was thinking of herself as “a reader.”
Not all stories will be as easy to unravel so don’t worry if your kids are able to change their stories right away. Some are more ingrained, but the more you go through these steps with them, the more they will see that your belief in them is strong.
As you can see in this guide, boosting kids’ confidence happens when parents engage in less “doing” and more “guiding” their kids to doing their own work. While it still requires energy and thought to guide and listen to kids, having them regularly practice stepping into action and thereby build their confidence will empower them. In the end, this means they will develop the skills they need to fully manage their lives. Before you start implementing some of these practices into your own lives, make sure to leave a quick comment and let me know what you think of “The Beginner’s Guide to Boosting Kids’ Confidence”.