Self-confidence and pride both have the same root: feeling good about yourself. And parents play a significant role in cultivating this attitude.
The pride you want to engender in your child is one that comes from integrity, from honesty, and from doing your best–not from overachieving or having more stuff than someone else. It’s wonderful to enjoy the talents of your child–on the soccer field, in the classroom, on a stage, but that’s only part of the person. We should be more interested in how kind this child is, how caring. It is these qualities, in the long run, that are the foundation for a fulfilled life.
Ages 5 to 7
THE CONFIDENT CHILD
Whether they are shy or audacious, 5-year-olds are generally quite happy with who they are, as long as they are getting plenty of support and love at home and find pleasure in the companionship of peers. Their built-in confidence is blossoming. A parent’s role is to nurture that well-being, and the keys are: love, acceptance, and reasonable expectations. It’s vitally important to a child that he senses his parents’ approval and their pride in his accomplishments. This also means accepting a child’s limitations. That’s how to build happiness and confidence–not pushing him to be other than what he is.
Patience may be especially needed in the early elementary-school years as children try to acquire new skills (such as reading), enter into new peer relationships, and strive to meet the expectations of teachers. It’s good to keep in mind the long view: If your child is not a great reader at six compared to other children, it doesn’t mean he is not going to be a great reader later on.
Ages 7 to 9
UPS AND DOWNS
These are, for better or for worse, the years when children begin to compare themselves to others and feel unfamiliar stirrings of self-doubt.
By age 7, children can no longer thrive on parental approval alone; they must also win the acceptance of their peers and teachers. More self-awareness inevitably means more self-evaluation, so parents might notice a decline in their child’s overall self-esteem. This is quite natural as children take a look around and realize they are not necessarily the best, the brightest, the fastest, or the most talented child in the room. But parents can teach children other ways to look at themselves. They may want to say to their child, ‘Look what you can do now, that you couldn’t do a year, or even a week, ago.’
Social relationships can become more complicated, too, especially for girls, who may find that they are no longer someone’s best friend. Cliques form, and some girls are included, others excluded. This can be painful, even heartbreaking. As a parent, you want to jump in and fix the problem, or say just the right thing to make your child feel better. But you have to let them be sad for a little while. Then, when they seem ready to come out of it, you can start to discuss ways to find new friends.
Another daily challenge emerges: homework. What builds a child’s confidence is when parents find the right amount of involvement versus noninvolvement.
By the time your child hits fourth grade, he is able to understand and to do so much more on his own that you will likely notice in him a new surge of confidence.
Ages 9 to 12
Around age 9, self-esteem begins to rise again. But more turbulence lies ahead. Many children during the fifth or sixth grade switch to a middle school or junior high school, meaning that they go from being at the top of the pecking order straight to the bottom again–and they may feel the contrast sharply. Along with a new school come new demands: perhaps having several classrooms instead of only one–which means more adults to please–and more pressure to achieve academically.
By age 10 or 11, puberty is probably a significant issue. Girls and boys can experience this quite differently. A boy who becomes taller and fitter may find himself admired as never before. A girl who begins to show womanly attributes may feel proud, or plain unprepared for the new sort of attention she attracts from the opposite sex.
The result is that self-esteem takes another nosedive right around age eleven or twelve. Girls are especially vulnerable.
Girls may also experience lower academic self-esteem. They are less likely to take credit for their successes.
The acceptance (or rejection) by peers is of paramount concern to children as they enter preadolescence. But parents may underestimate their own influence during this period. Children are going to act as if parents aren’t that important, but parents really need to be there. Kids go out into the big peer world and get banged up a bit, then retreat to parents for comfort, solace, and advice.
TOOLS FOR CONFIDENCE-BUILDING
Here are a few ways to help your child handle whatever life offers.
–Be open to your child’s opinions, ideas.
–Don’t expect too much, or always demand nothing less than perfection from your child.
–Encourage a feeling of quiet pride.
–Help your child develop skills in areas that she particularly loves or in which she shows natural talent.
–Praise your child’s accomplishments but let him know that you’re most proud of him for simply being himself.
–Teach children to accept setbacks and to keep moving ahead.
–Encourage children to see their own improvements–in their reading, writing, running, or recitals.
–Show patience and tolerance for the things your children struggle with or take longer to accomplish.