Priya Kulasagaran looks at ways parents can give their children the confidence they need to be well-adjusted adults
Building a child’s self-esteem is important in the long-run, so that they can have healthy personal boundaries, and be more resilient when facing peer pressure. Those with a good sense of confidence are also better able to handle challenges, be more productive, and be self-assured. Former teacher Suraya Mahmud, who is now a licenced child counsellor, offers some simple tips as to how parents can raise their children’s confidence levels.
Give praise where praise is due
“Positive feedback is very beneficial, because young children especially rely a lot on feedback from adults,” says Suraya. “They see their worth reflected in what you think of them. Even older children, while they may not show it, still value your opinion on what they do.” However, at the same time, the praise given needs to be proportional to the child’s achievement. Hollow or exaggerated praise may be even more damaging than no praise at all.
“You need to be realistic with compliments; for example, if your child is not very talented at something, don’t go overboard with the compliments, because they can sense that you don’t mean it. Worse, they may develop an overinflated view of their own abilities, and that would impact them negatively in the long-run when they have to deal with the real world,” says Suraya. Instead, it would be better in such cases to compliment the child’s efforts rather than the results, and reassure them that repeated effort or practice will give them better results.
Children by their nature are curious beings, and those with healthy self-esteem are willing to explore and try new things. You can encourage your child’s sense of adventure by trying out new things with them, even if it’s a simple outing to a new part of town, or making a new type of meal in the kitchen together.
“Parents are understandably protective of their children, but allowing them to try new things without constantly hovering over them will do wonders for expanding your children’s confidence, and helping them deal with new situations for themselves. You can stand at the sidelines to make sure the situation is safe, but don’t rush to intervene. With younger children for example, you can set up a safe space for them to play and watch from a distance,” says Suraya.
“If your child discovers something that he or she excels at, and enjoys it, do give them your support,” says Suraya. “Whether it’s mathematics, or drawing, or playing in a band, let them explore their interests as these will give them a sense of accomplishment. If you are worried about such interests getting in the way of school work or household responsibilities, communicate this with your child and establish some ground rules. As long as your child knows that they have to fulfil their responsibilities, let them develop their own sense of identity by pursuing their interests.”
Confident adults are able to make decisions and can articulate their opinions; this is a skill that can be honed from a very young age. “For example, you can let your child choose what he or she wants to wear to pre-school, and tell them why you may agree or disagree. You can even let them weigh in on simple family matters, like what they think the day’s dinner should be, or where would be best place to go for the next family vacation. While you don’t have to agree with them, take the time to listen to their opinions, and explain why they think it’s a good idea,” says Suraya.
Have clear and consistent rules
It may seem strange to think that rules can have an impact on self-esteem, but Suraya says that children gain confidence from having a sense of stability. “Having clear and consistent rules gives children a sense of security – they know what to expect and when,” she says. “What is important here is to make it clear to them what your family’s values are and why. As they grow older, you can give them more room to negotiate these rules, but within reason. You are the parent, so you need to set the boundaries of what is acceptable or not.”
She adds that having such rules will give children the foundation they need when they are tempted by negative peer pressure. “If you’ve instilled a good sense of what is right and wrong, they’d be more confident at saying ‘no’ to negative influences,” she says.
Give constructive criticism
There will be times when disciplining your child can be a trying experience. However, it is best to avoid nagging or threats.
“Nagging will eventually be ignored, and threats merely create fear if not outright rebellion,” says Suraya. “That doesn’t mean that children shouldn’t learn the consequence of bad behaviour – but you should give them reasons as to why you are disciplining them. What I also see these days is parents resorting to bribes as well; this rarely ever works in the long-term.”
Suraya adds that instead of criticising a child as a whole, parents should focus on the particular act done, and what the consequences of bad behaviour might be.
While it may be painful to watch your child experience failure, it may be better to let them learn from their own mistakes rather than shielding them from the world. Such setbacks can be used as opportunities to learn and grow, and help children recognise that life is not always smooth-sailing.
“But don’t simply brush away your child’s feelings when they’re still reeling from the setback,” says Suraya. “Acknowledge their feelings of hurt – the key word here is ‘empathise’ rather than just giving them pity or telling them to cheer up. You can then talk about what the child can do to improve, or what steps he or she may take to get past the issue. This allows the child to see that such feelings are normal, and that they can manage and move on from those feelings.”
Appreciate your child for who he or she is
“Personally, I think that parents should tell their children that they are proud of them, of who they are as people,” says Suraya. “It could be simple things, like ‘I appreciate the way you help out around the house without me asking you to’, or ‘I’m so happy that you’re such a caring person’. This gives the child a sense of self-worth from the positive things that they do.”
In contrast, she adds that parents should avoid comparing their children to others, as such comparisons would chip away at their self-esteem. “If other people do make such comparisons, tell your child that he or she is unique and special in his or her own right.”