There is really just one rule about raising a confident child, and that is to love them. Don’t love them for who they could become, or because they have beautiful manners, or because they remind you of you. Love them, simply, for them.
Here are seven ways we can strive to do that.
Recognise the individual
A child who is treated as unique sees himself the same way. A genuine acceptance of the child who dances to his own beat, to be unlike anyone else – without criticism – is guaranteed to foster a great deal of self-confidence and high levels of self-esteem.
Rudolf Steiner called this ‘the riddle of the child’ and it’s our duty as parents to unravel it.
So many times I’ve seen toddlers and preschoolers shout at and hit their mothers, and I’m appalled that this behaviour is seen as acceptable. Every person is entitled to be treated respectfully and a child must believe down to his soul that you as his parent genuinely think of yourself as a respected human being.
If we as parents tolerate disrespect from anyone, especially our children, we cannot begin to hope that they will learn self-respect and develop a good self-esteem. Wayne Dyer sums it up like this “If you want your child to respect himself, give him an example of a person who does the same, and never, ever waiver from that position.”
Give them responsibility
It’s tempting to mow a perfect path and strip potential hurdles out of the way. But children with high self-esteem are those who are given the opportunity to take responsibility right from the beginning. They need to take risks and know that you trust them, not necessarily to achieve, but to simply give it a go.
In Waldorf schools Kindergarten children use sharp knives to chop fruit and are encouraged to swing from tall trees using nothing but their hands and a tightly knotted rope. Over time these children learn how to use their bodies and hands to help others and contribute to the greater good. The feeling this creates is “I matter; my family does better because I am here.” It’s a tremendous foundation for positive self-esteem.
Children who learn how to finish the tasks they start and push through any challenges on the way, ultimately experience a sense of satisfaction in a job well done. This practice strengthens the child’s will, allowing him to feel empowered and act on his own moral compass without being swayed by social norms or peer pressure.
There’s a beautiful quote by Pieter Nitze, a Waldorf and Harvard graduate and director of an aerospace company:
“If you’ve had the experience of binding a book, knitting a sock, playing a recorder, then you feel that you can build a rocket-ship – or learn a software program you’ve never touched. It’s not bravado, just a quiet confidence. There is nothing you can’t do. Why couldn’t you? Why couldn’t anybody?”
Ask questions about everything and encourage your children to do the same. One of the most powerful self-esteem building tools is knowledge, and one of the best ways to build this is to foster a love of learning.
Try not to say things like “You’re too young to understand” or “I’ll tell you when you’re older” or any similar version of this. Your child’s natural sense of enquiry and interest in the world will shut down, leaving him infinitely poorer. If you don’t know the answer, it’s totally okay to find it together. By being better informed your children will become substantially more confident.
Think and speak positive
We become what we think about, and nowhere is this more crucial than in the highly developing mind of the child. Our words as parents shape who our children believe themselves to be, and their thinking will determine their future.
The two most powerful words we can say are “I am” and we must be mindful that criticism and blame can shape a self-image in a way that serves only to deflate their self-esteem balloon, not fill it. Children will become what they think about and you can be a positive force or a negative one.
A child who is able to be happy on his own has a valuable skill. This child doesn’t need to rely on the presence of his parents, or if he’s older, on the company of food, friends or screens to be happy in himself.
Children who are independent, who manage themselves, who figure out where to go on their own, are infinitely more confident than their peers who haven’t been given this gift.
“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” – E.E. Cummings
Let’s give our children the thing we most wish we had. It’s not too late.
How do you foster confidence in your children? How did your parents do it for you? If you’re the parent of an adult child, does it ever end?
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