It isn’t enough that we obsessively show and tell our children we love them. We also have to teach them to love themselves; to believe they are worthy and to be confident.
I’ve come to realize all these learned traits are intertwined and must be cultivated. And the younger we plant the seeds, the better.
First, to cultivate confidence, it’s important to make our children feel important. The best way to convey this is by being present and looking them in the eye when they talk. I know I’m guilty of “listening” while fully engaged in something else. Oftentimes our devices are the biggest culprit. I realize there are exceptions when my child is interrupting something truly important – emailing a boss or editor, sending a text to my husband, or jotting down a great idea for my podcast (something I will absolutely forget if I don’t do it this second). When this is the case, I vocalize what I am doing, “give me a minute to finish up this text to your dad and then I’m all ears.” I’ve found that way my children are aware of what is stealing my attention from them and why they must wait.
Another way to reinforce this feeling of importance is to praise our children. This seems to go without saying, but as it turns out (according to the internet) building a child’s self love and worth is a tricky balance of praise: not too much, or too often; and it needs to be the right kind, phrased the right way, otherwise it “may be doing more harm than good.” Truly the information available on this topic is overwhelming, but the idea is that overpraising a child may keep them from pushing themselves to try harder or to try something new, since they’re already doing a great job of the current task.
A suggestion widely agreed upon is to have your child “overhear” their praises while talking with other adults. This way they know it’s genuine and will feel proud of themselves. In addition, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, using words like confident, courageous, and brave within your praise can help cultivate those very traits.
We all know our children have their own unique set of strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, our expectations for our children should align with these. As they grow, it’s important to let them figure things out for themselves and act their age by giving them age-appropriate challenges. Another great way to cultivate confidence and pride is to set up a goal within your child’s limitations and have them complete little tasks that work towards the bigger goal. Celebrating these little victories along the way will fuel their drive and boost their self-worth.
That said, it’s also essential to keep in mind that placing too high of expectations outside a child’s abilities can greatly reduce confidence. An excellent example of this I recently came across is: If I were to say to my young child, “I will give you $1000 to do a backflip. You can’t do it? How about, do a backflip or you owe me $1000. Still no?”… Logically speaking, the result should come as no surprise. They aren’t physically able to complete the task. Because it doesn’t matter if I offer a reward or a punishment, if the request is beyond my child’s abilities and they are unable to perform, it can lead to stress and anxiety while also affecting their self confidence.
Lastly, it’s important to mention that our children will inevitably fail. These failures needn’t be a blow to their budding egos, instead they present a wonderful opportunity to learn. It’s important to express empathy followed by guidance and reflection on the failure. This sounds entirely backwards, but allowing our children to fail, essentially sets them up to succeed.
Ultimately, I believe confidence and self-love is the greatest gift I can give my child outside of my own love. By making my children feel important, praising them, giving them age appropriate challenges and (from time to time) letting them fail, I am planting seeds of self-worth, cultivating and watching with pride as they blossom and grow.