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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


Building Self-Confidence In Your Child

By Silvana Clark

Sit by any playground and observe the children running, jumping, and climbing over and under the equipment. It's not hard to notice the daredevils who slide headfirst down the slide and then leap from the hanging bars to begin twirling feverishly on the tire swing. These kids know no fear! Then there are the cautious playground participants. They slowly walk across the shaky wooden bridge. It takes them time to get the courage to slide down the fireman's pole. What makes the difference? Could it be self confidence?

Parents strive to help their children develop self-confidence. We all want our children to eagerly participate in school or volunteer to try playing goalie on the soccer team. Yet often, (well meaning as we are) parents undermine their children's ability to develop self-confidence. If a pre-schooler runs into a room caring a glass of water, what's the first thing most parents say? You'll usually hear,” Be careful, you might spill that”. How about saying, ‘It's a good idea to walk when carrying a glass of water.”? Why encourage a self-fulfilling prophecy by telling Susie she'll spill the water?

Let's revisit the playground. Listen carefully and you're bound to hear some mother yelling, “Jordan, don't climb so high, you'll get hurt!” That's one way to build a child's confidence! When our daughter was three, my husband found her trying to climb an apple tree in the backyard. Rather than telling her she was going to fall, he spent time showing her how to select branches for holding and standing. They climbed another ten feet, much to the delight of Sondra. The rule is she can climb trees when an adult is nearby - which has resulted in numerous father daughter tree climbing expeditions.

The following are some ways to help children develop self confidence in themselves and their abilities.

Be a positive role model

How often as adults do we say, “I'll never be able to make that presentation next week.” Or, “I wish I knew how to use this new computer program. I'll never learn.” Children need to see parents with a can-do attitude. They gain coping skills by hearing parents say, “The boss asked me to give a Power Point presentation next week. I've never done it, but I found this great magazine article that has some tips. I'll give it a try.”

If things don't work out, keep a positive attitude. I remember taking a risk and auditioning for a part in a community theater play. OK, I didn't get the lead, (or even a minor part) but I did let my daughter see me stepping out of my comfort zone and making the best of the situation. While I wasn't headed for Broadway, I did become involved with the theater by volunteering as box office manager.

Encourage positive risk taking

Self confident children have the inner fortitude to try new things, even if it means a possibility of failure. Encourage children to try out for the school play or enter an art contest. As a family, read a book on a topic new to all of you. Take a bike ride on some unfamiliar trails, just for the adventure of seeing where you'll end up. When my daughter was in first grade and assigned to bring something for Show and Tell, I encouraged risk taking. Instead of having her share the latest Barbie doll, I'd give her a theme such as “Take something you made yourself”. (We baked bread which she shared with the class.) “Take something that grows in the ground.” (She picked dandelions and showed their long root system.) The teacher always commented positively about Sondra's unique choice of Show and Tell items. In a small way, she learned she'd get positive reinforcement by doing things a bit different from the ordinary. Today at 15, she's a confident teen that doesn't worry if “everyone else is doing it”.

Let children make choices

Yes, you want your daughter to go to school wearing the cute red plaid skirt with the matching red sweater. She, of course, wants to wear the purple striped pants with her yellow flowered turtleneck. Why not let her? One very traditional mother was helping her son write a poem for a school assignment. She thought a poem about the baby robins in their backyard made a perfect topic. Jason had other ideas. He wrote a poem about the smell of fermenting garbage in their trash can. The poem went on to win a city wide youth poetry contest while Jason developed confidence in his writing and creative thinking skills.

A large part of self-confidence is the feeling that it's great to reach out and do something out of the ordinary. All too often as parents we say things such as, “But all the other kids have lunch boxes. Why do you want your lunch in a bag?” Give children the opportunity to make choices as long as safety and family values are taken into account.

Keep praise in perspective

There's a tendency for parents to praise every action their child makes. There's no need to clap and cheer if your 10-year old puts his napkin on his lap at dinner. That's expected behavior. Some parents gush over every scribble their pre-schooler makes as if that drawing belongs in a museum. Children soon learn they can do almost anything and parents automatically give a standing ovation. That praise soon loses its meaning. Of course you want to give positive feedback, but at least make it realistic feedback.

As a pre-school teacher, I often saw parents excessively praise children for minor accomplishments. A mother picking up her four year old looked at her daughter's collage consisting of one cotton ball and two pieces of felt glued to a piece of paper. “Oh Ashley”, she gushed, “This is the most amazing piece of artwork I've seen. Look at what a lovely collage you made. You are so artistic! Let's go home and put it up on the wall in a special place of honor.” This four year old was certainly capable of making a collage beyond 3 items glued to paper. In class, Ashley consistently needed reinforcement for what she did. She'd ask “Teacher, do you like my picture?' Didn't I do a good job making a tower with the blocks?” Instead of participating in an activity for her own enjoyment, she needed the approval of others.

Let children solve problems

Children develop self confidence by solving problems appropriate to their abilities. Does your son want the latest expensive tennis shoes? Have him call 3-4 stores and compare prices. Brainstorm ways he could partially earn some of the money. Instead of rushing in to help your child, allow time for creative thinking. One teacher assigned the usual homework assignment of constructing a model of the solar system…with no Styrofoam balls allowed! Parents actually called, complaining their children couldn't possibly complete the assignment without Styrofoam balls. The wise teacher told parents to relax and let children find a solution. They did, including a model of Jupiter and Pluto made from a combination of glue and dryer lint!


Silvana Clark is a professional speaker and the author of eleven books. She encouraged her two daughters to take risks, push the limits and definitely think outside the box. For information on her creative parenting workshops, contact

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