Being able to approach a variety of situations with confidence makes life so much more pleasant, relaxed and interesting whatever the situation - at work, social events, learning something new or having time with family and friends. The skills needed to feel confident, self-reliant and assured can be taught to children from a young age and will stand them in good stead for a whole lifetime. Teaching these skills to your children is straightforward, fun and rewarding. Why not have a go now?
Children accept what is around them and make it their own. If you endeavour to be smiley, pleasant and friendly to others your child will get the idea. Teach eye contact by doing it. Be honest and straightforward, make the rules clear before you start anything and have lots of fun times. Expect people to be friendly and they almost always will be. Point out the good bits of disappointing situations and your children will do likewise, for example, “The match was cancelled because of the weather, now we have more time to make our Christmas cards. "
Your child needs to feel secure. This is achieved by being there for your kids, listening to them, giving them quality time, making it clear that you think they are great and showing how much you enjoy them and value their company. When your children want some attention, give it to them wholeheartedly. Look at them and give them your full attention. Children are more responsive to voice tone and attitude than to what you actually say! So don't waste words when a smile and a hand hold is all that is needed. If there is some distraction - cooking on the stove, baby crying, somewhere to get to in a hurry, then promise attention at a specific time later and keep your promise.
Being able to listen to children is a brilliant skill to have. If a child says something like, “I'm no use at maths" then don't contradict this by saying “Oh I think you do very well with your maths" as this ends the conversation and the child gets no chance to explore with you what is actually going on. A better response is “Oh dear - you are feeling bad about the maths today. " Then, with any luck, your child will elaborate on how he or she feels and you are in a position to offer support.
Building confidence is about encouraging children to feel good about themselves and their achievements. Avoid putting children in positions of failure. Create tasks that can be achieved and make them achievable by giving appropriate support. If the game is to hit a ball with a bat then find a bat that is so big and a ball that is so soft that success is inevitable. Once the child can do this make it more difficult - perhaps hitting the ball past a tree or using a slightly smaller bat. If the task is to encourage reading then the same rule applies - make sure your child can achieve success somehow. Make the book appropriate and achievable. Don't let your child struggle - read a page each or read alongside your child, help them to succeed. Confidence will come as one small success builds on another. Praise is no use unless the child feels he or she has earned it. Create situations to make success happen.
The achievable tasks you present to your children need not be of the academic or sporting variety. Perhaps looking after a pet or younger sibling may be more appropriate, or playing in a co-operative way, or making something, or helping with a household job like cooking or washing the car.
Use praise for genuine achievement, really mean it. Say, “I like the way you've chopped those carrots" rather that blanket praise like, “That's nice dear. " Pick out something specific on which to comment favourably. Always do that first. If there is room for improvement set another challenge - eg “Next time you can do the onions too" (or whatever). Children need to know they are doing OK but at the same time they like to feel they are moving towards a higher goal and that you trust they will get there!
Confidence comes from feeling good about ourselves and our place in the world. Let's help our kids grow in confidence by providing the love, support and security they need, by listening in a way that encourages conversation, by creating situations where success is achievable and by using praise and encouragement in productive and meaningful ways.
Margaret Rowan has worked for many years as a teacher and education consultant in the UK. She believes that a happy childhood is the greatest gift we can give. Her website http://www.joyndelight.com is full of fun and useful products for kids of all ages.