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Building Self-Confidence in Our Children

What is the parent's role in helping their children build self esteem?

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At some point during our children’s formative years, I’m sure we have each held a crying child who, amidst gulping sobs, confesses that they are the dumbest…fattest…worse singer…slowest runner…shyest…child ever!  If our parent heart hasn’t broken yet, we then hear “nobody likes me!” 

Though their self-accusations may have some merit of truth to it, I’ve found that if I totally discount their fears, I lose all creditability.  Instead, the child needs to be pointed in a direction that gives them back their feeling of self-worth.  I’ve tried methods like, “Well, we’ll work harder on your math and you’d do so much better on the next test, but did you see the faces on the audience after your last piano recital?”  But is this the best solution?

It seems that one of the key components to success in life is self-confidence.   As adults, we realize that we have more confidence in some situations than in others and that our levels of self-confidence have varied throughout different periods of our lives.  How can we help our children build the self-confidence that we’ve always wished we had?

From what I’ve seen, children gain self-confidence by feeling that they are good at something – and it can be nearly anything, as long as it makes the child proud of himself.  Our job is to dig down and help find the hidden talent in our child, coax it, nurture it and praise our child for their achievements.  Whether it’s hitting a home run, belting out the theme song from Aladdin on stage, receiving an honorary mention in Art Showcase (Art-In-Action’s annual competition), or any of hundreds of other things your child may seek to conquer, all children (and adults) need to feel that they are good at something that’s important to them and that allows them stand a bit above their peers.

When my son was ready for kindergarten, he was adamant that he could not start school unless he could conquer the monkey bars.  I’m not sure where he got this idea, but there was no convincing him that mastering his numbers or his early reading skills would be better preparation for school.  He was so sure that the key to starting school on the right foot was tied to doing the monkey bars.  Every day that summer before school started, we walked to and my son practiced over and over on the monkey bars. 

By the first day of school, he felt that he was indeed king of the monkey bars and had few qualms about starting school. He walked tentatively but without tears into the classroom and bid me goodbye, all thoughts and conversation that morning being on recess and the monkey bars.  Needless to say, Danny did learn a lot during his elementary school years, but his confidence in himself among his peers and at school, started with his pride in himself in his ability to do the monkey bars.

My daughter was always very quiet and reserved in school.  She was never one to volunteer an answer or raise her hand in class.  But at home, she would sing and dance her way through her activities.  Because of her interests in music and performing, I helped organize a drama program at her elementary school.  Our first performance, “Bugs”, was exciting and nerve racking for most of the kids.  As time went on and we were able to organize more plays, we started to see changes in the children that the parents of the children attributed to the children’s experience in drama. 

In fourth grade, my daughter was distraught over the news that she had to do an oral presentation of her assigned Indian tribe to her class.  After receiving permission from her teacher, Chrissy dressed up as an Indian maiden and had “Princess Shining Star” give the presentation – her teacher was impressed with her imaginative solution to her shyness and by her acting skills and gave her an exceptional grade on the project. 

We’ve had many success stories from our drama group, from recognizable confidence being built in children with speech impediments to children with behavior issues learning that they could get attention through their skills instead of through poor behavior.   And, among their peers who sat in the audience and watched the performances, these children were put on a pedestal that lasted for quite some time, both during the few weeks before the play while the anticipation built, for many days after the performances, and especially on the day of the performance.

What is your opinion or thoughts on this subject?  If your child is struggling on their academics at school, should parents still attempt to carve some time out of the child’s day for building other skills or interests?  Do you think it’s important to find a skill or interest in a child that will allow him to shine among his peers or would you instead attempt to boost your child’s self-esteem in personal achievements?  Or, is it your belief that children will find their own confidence if left to find it on their own?   Do you have a tip or story on this topic? Share with us by emailing sarahy@patch.com or commenting below. 

John Craighead March 05, 2011 at 07:22 AM
Parents play a huge role in their childrens opinions of themselves. Much of it is actually taking the time to spend with your kids. We all get busy in our day-to-day lives, but sometimes just 10 mins spent with a child with reap benefits. I spent countless hours playing catch with my 3 sons when they were younger. They all played baseball at least thru middle school, but the pride they showed in making a good catch was the real reward. A kind word, a hug, a few minutes of your time & being there for your kids is my recommendation to helping build up their self-confidence.

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