Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Raising a Confident Kid

Encouragement at an early age creates a great foundation.

Starting Young

If there's one quality most of us equate with success and happiness, it's self-confidence. Throughout life, having faith in ourselves and in our abilities makes it easier to make friends, take risks, and accomplish goals. What you may not know is that the seeds of this crucial quality exist in infancy, and it's vital for parents to nurture them throughout childhood.
Of course, each child's individual temperament is different. Some kids are naturally more outgoing or timid than others. Some may need more freedom to express themselves; others thrive on greater parental support. Fortunately, most of the steps parents should take to encourage self-confidence work for all children, regardless of their unique personalities.
As a child and family therapist, it's my job to help parents raise happy, independent children. The more self-confident a child is, the more independent she will be as an adult. So how can you nurture this important quality in your child? Happily, it's a lot easier than you think! Here are four steps to raising a self-confident child.

Step 1: Establish a Base of Trust

Each and every time you respond to your baby's cries with comfort and love -- not to mention food -- you're demonstrating to him that his world is safe and that he can rely on you. Over time, this helps him develop a strong sense of security, which gives him the confidence to form satisfying, intimate relationships as he grows. You're already doing your best to care for your baby; try these subtle (and simple) things to reinforce that trust.
Be consistent.
Babies thrive on routine and predictability. Not only does consistency make them feel safe, but it allows them to focus on discovering their world rather than reacting to lots of change. You probably already have a pretty set routine for feeding and sleeping. But there are other times in baby's day during which you can show your trustworthiness. Comforting your baby every time she cries or reading her a bedtime story every night underscores the message that you're there for her. Say goodbye when you leave your child rather than sneaking out; let her know when you'll return in terms she can understand: "Mommy will be back after lunch." Eventually she'll learn that you always come back.
Set firm rules.
This step is particularly important as kids get older and yearn to push boundaries. Though limits and safety rules may lead to tantrums, they actually enhance your child's trust in you. If the rules are changing all the time, your little one will become confused and insecure. However, it's important to make sure the limits you enforce are developmentally appropriate and not overly restrictive, or you may quash your child's appetite for learning. For example, you can't expect a young toddler not to want to touch everything in sight at a store or restaurant. Instead of just saying no repeatedly, make sure he's well entertained with a toy from home or a favorite song so he's less interested in that glass ketchup bottle.

Step 2: Teach Your Child Self-Love

Self-love is the basis of self-confidence. When a child -- even a baby -- feels that he's loved and valued, he learns that he should feel the same way about himself. Not surprisingly, children who feel loved and love themselves believe in their abilities; if they can't build a block tower, they'll try again. They happily initiate play with other children because they know that they'll be liked and welcomed.
Giving your child lots of hugs and kisses and spending as much time together as you can is a great start. Here are some other strategies you can use to instill this important idea.
Be smart about praise.
Celebrating your child's accomplishments makes her feel good about herself. When your baby pulls herself up to standing, clap and say, "Good job!" You'll demonstrate that not only are you paying attention to her, but that what she does is important.
Remember that the way you praise your child and what you praise her for are just as important as the action itself. When you offer praise, make it more meaningful by offering a specific example of why something's great -- comment on the beautiful colors in her painting, for instance. But don't say her picture is perfect or that she's a genius. As she grows older, she may set impossible standards for herself or doubt the authenticity of your praise.
Think before you speak.
Even when they're little, kids are sensitive to your emotions, particularly negative ones, which can be tough on parents. And what you say and how you say it has a powerful impact on children's self-esteem. No one who's ever witnessed a five-star tantrum will argue that even the most patient parent can't get exasperated. But yelling or telling your child she's being bad only wears on her self-esteem and doesn't necessarily stop the offending behavior. When you get emotionally overheated during a discipline dispute, calm yourself down by taking your own 10-second time-out before you speak. When you discipline your child, watch your tone and focus on the behavior. If your toddler hits you, for example, don't say, "How many times have I told you to stop that?" Instead, say, "We don't hit people. Use your words if you're angry at me."

Step 3: Encourage Competence

There's nothing more gratifying than conquering a challenge. Imagine how your baby feels when, after weeks of stumbling and falling, she finally figures out how to walk on her own. Such accomplishments teach your child that she's capable, and as a result, she'll relish tackling new challenges rather than fear them. So what can you do to raise an "I can" kid?
Avoid jumping in too quickly.
Children learn from practicing and solving problems. So it is often wise to step back when your child is struggling with a task. For instance, you might allow your 9-month-old to fumble with his shape sorter rather than helping him get every shape in the right hole. When children master challenges on their own, they develop new skills and a stronger belief in their abilities.
Offer meaningful help.
Though children need to do things on their own, there is a point at which adults should step in. But that doesn't mean you should complete the task for your child. If he is frustrated with a task, guide him toward a solution. If he can't get his block tower to stand, place a block in his hand and guide it to the correct place. He'll gain a sense of accomplishment as well as learning how to complete the task at hand.

Step 4: Promote Independence

When your child was a tiny infant, she was so dependent on you that she assumed the two of you were one person. But by the time she reached 6 or 7 months of age, she became increasingly aware of her individuality and began to demonstrate a natural drive to become more independent of you. As she gains the ability to feed herself, walk unassisted, or pull off her own socks, she feels more powerful. Here's how to help your child declare her independence.
Let her explore her world freely.
Baby proof your home from top to bottom and encourage your little one to crawl from room to room, unearth treasures from drawers, and discover just how exciting the view from beneath the coffee table can be. There's nothing more satisfying to a baby than realizing she can discover and have a real effect on the world on her own. If your child wanders into unfamiliar or unsafe territory, resist the urge to shout "Don't go there!" Instead, distract her with an interesting toy. Overreacting will frighten a baby and discourage her from future exploration.
Help him help himself.
A 6-month-old can't maneuver a spoon into a jar of baby food and bring it to his mouth, but he can scoop a bit of banana off his snack tray and feed himself. Taking the time to make everyday tasks kid-friendly encourages your baby to try to do things on his own and cuts down on frustration.
Toddlers in particular benefit from taking on new responsibilities, as their every move is based on doing things for themselves. Does your 2-year-old always want to pour his own juice? Put some into a small creamer or individual carton and let him fill his own cup.
Expose your child to new experiences whenever you can.
The more exposure your child has to new people, places, and experiences, the better equipped he will be to navigate the world on his own. He'll begin to understand that the skills he learned at home apply elsewhere, so he'll adapt more easily to unfamiliar environments and explore them by himself.
Remember, the world is fresh and exciting to young children, so going to a recently opened diner for breakfast or simply going to see the animals in the window of a local pet store for the first time holds as much appeal for them as an exotic vacation to a foreign country you've never visited would for you.
Another boon for your child's developing independence is introducing him to other adults and encouraging him to form loving bonds with others. Spending time away from you with caregivers, grandparents, and close friends demonstrates to your child that his needs can be met outside of his own comfortable home; eventually, the larger world becomes a manageable, friendly place he's eager to discover on his own.
Of course, encouraging your child's self-confidence can be challenging; it means your little baby is growing up and tackling things by himself. But of all the gifts you can give your child, self-confidence is one of the most lasting and valuable there is.

1 comment:

pooja said...

hi,
nice article:)
thanks for sharing with us :)

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