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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How to Help Your Child to be More Confident

I'm thrilled to have Karen Doherty and Georgia Coleridge, the Authors of Seven Secrets of Successful Parenting as guests on Hip Slope Mama this week. With four children each, Karen and Georgia have condensed their personal knowledge and interviewed other parents to come up with seven types of parenting. Their down-to-earth guide to parenting "teaches parents to identify their own natural style of parenting and to borrow techniques from other types". This week they'll share some insights with our readers on how to help your child to be more confident:

Karen Doherty and Georgia Coleridge

We all want our children to be confident. Life can be tough, and if they’ve got good self esteem, they can cope with almost anything.

But if your child isn’t confident, it can be heartbreaking. Just about anything might upset him, whether it’s a hurtful remark from another child at school, or getting told off by a teacher. Lack of confidence can turn into a vicious cycle. If he is frightened of swimming or thinks he’s no good at art, he may refuse to do them altogether. This is so frustrating because you know if he’d just try, he might even enjoy himself.

Confidence issues can be caused by all sorts of things. Your child may be sensitive and easily crushed by criticism, panic if he can’t understand something first time or compare himself to other children who are more sporty, musical or academic.

The good news is there is a lot you can do to help him. You can make sure he feels well enough to cope with what life throws at him. You can help him feel good about himself so with any luck he can take criticism without crumpling into tears or getting defensive. You can also teach him that it’s no big deal if he isn’t good at something because, with a bit more practice, he’ll get better at it.

1. Make sure he can cope PHYSICALLY.

You’ve probably noticed that it’s a lot harder to cope with life when you’re chronically overtired, eat a bunch of junk or have no time to exercise. The same is true for your child. If he’s exhausted because he goes to bed too late, grumpy because he’s eaten too much sugar or too many additives, or lethargic after hours in front of the TV or computer, you may need to have a rethink. If he’s not feeling great physically, he’ll find it hard to keep up and concentrate at school, and he’ll be extra-sensitive to criticism. If you are worried about him, the solution might be physical: more sleep, less processed food and more exercise to boost his endorphins. This way he’ll have more of a chance of feeling he’s on top of his game.

2. Make sure he feels APPRECIATED and UNDERSTOOD.

You can improve your child’s confidence hugely by making him feel that you love and understand him. Then whatever life throws at him, he knows he’s an ok person.

It’s so easy to accidentally chip away at our child’s confidence without meaning to when we’re busy and stressed. It’s those times when we’re irritated, critical, lose our temper or are too busy to listen. You can also inadvertently hurt his confidence with ‘helpful’ comparisons with siblings – “Look at your sister. She’s concentrating so hard. No wonder she gets better grades than you do.”

None of us is perfect, but if you want to boost your child’s self-esteem, try not criticising him unless you absolutely have to. Rather than picking on all his mistakes, try telling him specifically and consistently all the things he is doing right.

In addition, try taking the time to listen to his views without moralising or disagreeing with him. Instead, confirm how you think he feels. Try, “I see. You were really angry when your baseball coach yelled at you,” instead of, “Well it’s no wonder he shouted. You were late – again.” He already knows what he’s done wrong, and he’s been reprimanded for it. All he needs is for you to understand how he feels. It might seem odd at first, but he’ll feel reassured. He will begin to be more confident in himself if he feels his thoughts are important and you take him seriously.

3. Make sure he feels COMPETENT.

It will help your child feel confident if there are things he knows he can do and do well. So if he’s feeling demoralised, turn it round and give him lots of praise for all the things he CAN do – like getting himself dressed, hopping on one leg, programming the VCR or whatever.

Introduce him gently to new situations, so he feels comfortable. For example, take several times to the toddler pool to play long before he starts swimming lessons, or let him handle money and pay for things before he learns about money at school. Tell him that most people aren’t good at things straight away, but the more time he practices, (whether it is reading or catching a ball), the better he will get over time.

Once you’ve shown him how to do something and helped him practice, it’s time to stop hovering and let him get on with it. He will feel more confident when he knows you have faith in him and are proud of his achievements.

Seven Secrets of Successful Parenting by Karen Doherty and Georgia Coleridge, Bantam Press, UK, available from Amazon.co.uk. For seven simple ways to be a better parent, see our website KarenAndGeorgia.com.