How do we help our toddler to be confident?
October 19, 2011 4:04 PM   Subscribe

How did you instill confidence in your children? How did your parents help you become a confident child and adult?

Mr. Pickle and I both came into our confidence as adults. We were raised by parents to not be "too full of ourselves" or cocky. I've heard it described as a typical modest mid-western attitude, but don't know how accurate that is.

Our daughter will be 2 in December, and we don't know how to best instill confidence in her. She is generally happy and neither shy nor overly outgoing. There isn't a problem, she knows there is lots of unconditional love, but we both feel that our childhood would have been improved if we had been more confident.

Any specific advice or anecdotal experience you wish to share would be greatly appreciated.
posted by Nickel Pickle to Human Relations (37 answers total) 110 users marked this as a favorite
My parents let me make my own decisions (within limits of course) from a very young age. I think that helped a lot.
posted by magnetsphere at 4:07 PM on October 19, 2011 [10 favorites]

My son is 7 now, and has been taught to greet all adults as follows:

"Hi, Miss Sally! How are you?....I'm fine, thank you for asking." My 7-year-old also knows how to shake hands and make eye contact with adults, and how to gently interrupt grownup conversation by saying "Excuse me, but could you please [fix this toy, retrieve the kite from the tree]..."

These simple conversational skills have allowed my little boy to meet adults confidently and to handle his needs politely and directly (no whining or crying necessary).
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:19 PM on October 19, 2011 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I can't tell you how I have done it for my kids, as I only have the one, and she's only two months old, so this will be something I start to tackle in the near future.

However, for myself, I realize my parents, and especially my father, encouraged me to try things without too much fear of failure. I built rope swings and forts and model rockets and fixed bicycles and jumped in the deep end, and nobody was ever saying "wait, that's dangerous!" or "oh, I'll do it for you."

I feel that I got to thinking that I could accomplish things on my own because was given ample opportunity to try on my own, and if I failed, then I could ask for help, and we could work on whatever it was, and usually the second time, I'd succeed.

I can remember all sorts of cases like that. I tried to build a bow and arrow from plum tree branches and it didn't work very well, so my dad helped me to make a better one. I built them with my brother and neighbors after that and we all had them, and I felt confident about my new ability. Similar with freedom to do things -- I remember driving to San Francisco (90 miles away) one night when I was in high school, shortly after I got my license. Nobody got mad at me for venturing away. Even the car I drove there in. When I bought it, it didn't really work, but my dad encouraged me to fix it up, and helped where I would have gotten stuck, but he didn't just do it for me.

Most of my confidence as an adult I think can be traced to my father's general attitude to tell me, "go ahead and try it, if it doesn't work, we'll try something else."

I got injured a few times, but it was worth it.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 4:22 PM on October 19, 2011 [14 favorites]

Specific praise is good: instead of "You're a great artist! It's a beautiful picture!", you say "I like the different shades of blue you chose for the sky. I think it was a great choice to draw a bird in the tree.".
posted by padraigin at 4:23 PM on October 19, 2011 [9 favorites]

This article from the Huff Post gives an interesting perspective about girls and confidence:

How to Talk to Little Girls
posted by brynna at 4:30 PM on October 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Confidence is generally developed from doing something hard, but within reach. This means failing, trying again, failing, trying again, and eventually succeeding.

A lot of parents undermine their children by doing everything for them and not letting them fail. Like, even kind-of a big one, when your kid is junior high age and having (minor) problems with a teacher, brainstorm with them about how to fix it and how to approach the teacher, but let the child do the approaching. Instead of sailing in, guns blazing, to fix it (totally my first instinct).

I remember when I was six, my school district was making a change that I was (for whatever reason) really irate about even though it didn't really affect me. Instead of blowing me off, my parents listened to me complain and suggested I should tell my reasons to the school authorities. Which I did. Who listened politely and told me the reasons they were going to make the change, just as if I was an adult complaining about it. In retrospect I obviously had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, but it was important to me so the adults in my life treated it as important to them and took it seriously, and my parents had every faith that I could advocate for myself to adults, which made it seem to me like the obvious thing to do. It's such a silly little thing but I think it's illustrative of how, from a very early age, I believed that my ideas mattered to the adults around me, and my parents backed me up in that belief and helped me learn how to advocate for my ideas -- but didn't do it for me.

By contrast, the things I didn't have a lot of confidence in were skills I didn't practice or do for myself -- I didn't learn to cook because a) I was stubborn about it and b) my mom had trouble teaching me because she did it so well herself it was frustrating to watch me do it poorly (and almost cut off fingers), so she always ended up just doing it for me. But when I did decide to learn, I had the confidence to try and fail, though I wasn't super-confident I'd learn how.

(I was also raised not to be full of myself or spend a lot of time tooting my own horn -- typical midwestern -- but that's not the same thing as not having confidence. Having FALSE confidence or an inflated self-opinion is just as unhealthy as having no confidence.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:30 PM on October 19, 2011 [15 favorites]

Best answer: Let your kid do absolutely everything on her own. At nearly 2 my kid ate at the table with utencils and no bib and with no sippy cup.

My 3 year old cleans up after himself - wiping up messes, picking up toys. We do NOT help.

And let her play with bolder, older kids.
posted by k8t at 4:33 PM on October 19, 2011 [9 favorites]

I turned out kind of obnoxiously confident and I think it's for two reasons:

a.) My parents, like tylerkaraszeqwski's equipped me with the tools to make good decisions and then let me run with it. They'd give me the facts, and listen to my rationalization as I worked my way to a decision. (Unfortunately, this meant I sometimes talked myself out of going to awesome sleepovers on a Thursday in favor to studying for my spelling test the next morning.) Sometimes I made the wrong decision and they let me do that, too. It helped to learn that even if I messed up, I'd be ok in the grand scheme of things. Yours is still a bit young for this, but it's definitely something to start thinking about.

b.) I performed. I did ballet all growing up (2-20!) and theater in high school and college. I was very comfortable being in front of people. I picked up a "show must go on" mentality--if something goes wrong, you lift your head high and keep going and there will still be applause at the end. It also planted the idea in my head that I was worth listening to.

tl;dr: I was taught to trust myself to make good decisions and to know that even when I didn't, I'd still be ok.
posted by chatongriffes at 4:34 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

The book The Parents We Mean To Be addresses this exactly.
posted by crunchtopmuffin at 4:36 PM on October 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

My mother let me make most of my own choices, and helped me when I failed, but never tried to take over. I was put in situations where I had a choice, to adapt or refuse, and in many cases, the choice to adapt had clear and obvious rewards. I was surrounded by adults, as well. I was able to hear the interesting conversations adults were having. I learned pretty early on that they would include me, but if I acted like a child, the conversation would be lowered to my level. Since I wanted to participate, I learned I needed to adapt. All of the experience with 'sitting at the adults table' helped me to meet new people, and adapt to the conversations going on. I've rarely ever been unsure of myself when meeting new people, or speaking to strangers as a result.

Like Eyebrows McGee, instead of just listening to me vent about a planned ordinance to outlaw skateboarding on streets, my mom told me she'd happily drive me to the city council meeting later in the week where it would be discussed. Having been surrounded by different situations and different requirements for participation from an early age, I had no qualms speaking at a city council meeting at the age of 15.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:36 PM on October 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

From my experience, these are things you should not do:
  • Do not tell your child that she is better than everyone else at academics, sports, or whatever it is that you want her to excel at, especially as justification for why her performance in that arena needs to improve.
  • Do not test your child by doing things like bringing her to a playground with chin-up bars and bemoaning her lack of upper body strength when she can't do a chin-up, or going on difficult hikes at the edge of her ability and then proceeding ahead at a fast pace beyond her line of sight to encourage her to summon inner reserves of strength so that she can catch up.
These are things you should do:
  • When she's a fully interactive person (probably around the range from 6 to 9, depending on her particular personality), bring her to some of your adult gatherings and encourage her to talk with people there about whatever thing, just like you do. This should probably be balanced against a sufficient number of occasions where she can hang out at the kids' table.
  • Do hands-on projects with her and let her take the helm as often as is feasible.
  • If possible, let her play outside and explore without your oversight. In general, give her some alone time where she can do whatever she wants without guidance.

posted by invitapriore at 4:37 PM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ah, how do we give our children confidence without making them conceited. What an interesting question.

My mother (I spent most of my time with my mother since my father was in the army and then worked a lot when I was a child) always asked me what I thought about a situation or a prospect or opportunity when I asked for her opinion of what I should do. She would listen to what I thought and what I WANTED to do and then let me experience my decision.

I once was asked to pose in Playboy by a scout (when I was young and cute.) I could have made enough money to buy my parents AND myself a house with the money they offered me. I asked my mother what she thought I should do. She said it was my body and it was my decision to make. I decided not to. I wasn't sure that I could deal with the impact it would make on my life as an adult (or what if my father's friends or my male cousins or uncles saw!) My mother let me make that decision. Many years later, I asked her what she would have though if I did pose. She said she would not have been upset with me if I decided to pose. She said it was always my decision to make and she was fine with it no matter what I would have decided. She jokingly said too bad I didn't pose because we could have purchased a lot of real estate and been living in some nice houses!

In my years as a young adult, my parents lead me to work as a dressmaker, a math tutor, a theatre teacher for gifted children, a dental hygienist, a wedding photographer, oh and so many other things that I will not continue boring you with. I think doing all of those things and having them be my own decision has made me more confident in many ways. I am still awkward when it comes to dating and giving presentations, but I'll always walk into a work place with the idea that the employers are lucky to have me.

I now tell my daughter (who just turned four) that I am proud of her whenever she does something that I think took her courage to do. I tell her she does a great job when she accomplishes something that I have never seen her do before. I even ask her if it is the first time she has done it in case she has with someone else watching her. Then I tell her that what she did was great. I try always to let her do something herself even though I see that she is hesitant. I scold her when she is doing something I feel is incorrect. She can't think everything she does is right!
posted by Yellow at 4:40 PM on October 19, 2011

Send your kid to summer camp. It gives them an opportunity to try new things without the watchful parent eyes, or predetermined ideas about they can/ can't accomplish.

2nding letting them try new things. I still remembering how other kids could barely use a knife in high school while I had been cooking and playing with knives with the girl scouts since I was 7.
posted by raccoon409 at 4:48 PM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Young children spend a huge amount of mental energy just trying to make sense of their world as it pertains to them as a very young child. This should come as a bit of a relief. You don't need to make a confident "mini-adult", you just need (for now) to make a confident toddler. So, for a toddler, that means you just need to help them make sense of and better understand how to function in their new little world.

I think a lot of people inadvertently mistake "unconditional love" for "unconditional agency". When a toddler is just getting to explore their world, they are looking for the boundaries, the edges, and therefore the safety. Ultimately, confidence comes not from a sense of success or failure, it comes from a sense of power over yourself as you relate to your surroundings.

Rules and limits are your friend. Enforce them consistently and lovingly. Encourage and participate in exploration and discovery inside the boundaries. Be the net. Remember that much of what they are trying to learn is not just what is safe what isn't, but how to interact with a world full of PEOPLE. It is never too early to teach a kid how to be kind. And considerate. This is the "edge", and you do neither them nor yourselves any favors by letting them fall off this edge.

Young kids feel "powerful" in their world if what they do consistently returns genuinely smiling faces, and surrounds them with both adults and other kids that are excited to be around them.

Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. Kids are kids and you just need to help them be kids, not ideal mini-adults. Help them be happy, but not at the continual expense of the happiness of everyone around them. You do not boost your child's confidence by creating resentment around them. Kid's pick up on that shit immediately.

Give them the gift of taking on the responsibility of you being the grown-up in all situations. Let them know they can count on you to let them know when they have made a mistake so they can make a better decision next time. Let them fail. But let them fail lightly and quickly and move on. This is the same thing as success. Be consistent in your boundaries and in your love. Let them know that you take your job as the grown up seriously and that you will not fail them in this. Because then they are free to be kids; exploring and learning. Happy.

And they will feel a power over their world. And you will have, as my daughter used to say; "Help me do it myself." And when they feel like they have done the right thing themselves...that's confidence.
posted by nickjadlowe at 5:01 PM on October 19, 2011 [16 favorites]

I was very smart but had a hard time socially as a kid. I grew into a more confident teen and a very confident adult. I was not protected from bullying, even physical bullying, in my private school. My parents could have pulled me and put me in public school, and maybe it would have been better or worse, but I was stuck with the same kids, some of whom teased me and some of whom just ostracized me socially, from K-8. I still had friends and maybe I was so oblivious that I didn't care sometimes that I was being made fun of, but I was SO relieved when I got to start over in high school. Don't make your kid wait that long if they are having serious social problems to the point of bullying at their school. Social development counts as part of what makes a "good school" and if the social environment sucks for your kid and reasonable intervention won't fix it, move your kid. Public high school let me sort some things out and I came out much better, and I felt I had more in common with some of my classmates.

One thing that my parents absolutely did right was to just let me BE, doing as I pleased so long as I was fulfilling responsibilities and performing to the extent of my ability. They didn't push me toward anything in particular and as a quiet kid I really relished fiddling with my own little projects and crafts, tinkering in the garden, and so on. I think this quiet unfettered exploration of my own skills and intelligence was really important and not something that is typical of modern parenting where kids are pushed to achieve this or that particular thing. Kids are too young to commit, and tinkering was good for me ultimately. I think I struggle way less with extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation than some of my peers do.
posted by slow graffiti at 5:02 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't tell them that they're good or bad at something, emphasize hard work rather than innate intelligence or skill. Teach them that skill comes from hard work and practice— it's malleable not fixed. (Research suggests that if you praise for fixed characteristics, they fear not staying smart but if you emphasize effort, they know they can do more if they're interested).

Also, don't tell them terrible things about themselves that they may come to see as fixed: "you're selfish," "You're mean," etc.

Agree with slow grafiti, also.
posted by Maias at 5:05 PM on October 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Along the exact same lines as Maias: Mindset, by Carol Dweck.
posted by O9scar at 5:26 PM on October 19, 2011

Maias put what I was thinking into words - teach them that effort and hard work allows them to accomplish things and excel. And let them have the experience of doing difficult things, encouraging them to stick with it and overcome challenges in their way.

In the areas of their greatest innate talent, they will (almost certainly, and if not confidence won't be the issue) meet people who are better. These other people may have greater innate talent, or more experience, or just a different background that gives them an advantage in a specific area. So innate skill isn't the way. They need to be able to say "I've never done this before, and I don't know how - but I know that I can figure it out and master it."
posted by Lady Li at 5:35 PM on October 19, 2011

This is from my burgeoning understanding of my own lack of confidence, so, it may not apply to your daughter:

Make sure your and Mr. Pickle's relationship is "emotionally egalitarian", in that you both listen to each others' concerns, make each other feel like those concerns are important, and that you both feel comfortable expressing your needs and wants to each other.

You are your child's role models, both as an individual, and an individual who will eventually have many varied relationships. At some point, parts of your child's personality will resonate with you, and other parts will start to resonate with Mr. Pickle. How you and Mr. Pickle handle each others' concerns will be picked up by your daughter.

While my parents were awesome parents in many respects, and quite equal in how they split up chores, finances, etc. - they were not the most equal in how they acknowledged each others' concerns. One of my parents was rather dismissive of the other parent's concerns, and after a while the "dismissed" parent stopped expressing their concerns. I picked up on this, and for some reason my personality resonated with how the "dismissed" parent handled these situations. So, I started to believe that my concerns were not valid.

I also agree, though, that your child is still a toddler, and the real time to be vigilant about your child's confidence is once they enter school and start dealing with the messed up power games that start around age 8 or 9 and continue... well, forever. If you are only going to have one kid, make sure she gets the chance to spend a lot of time with people her age.
posted by baniak at 5:49 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1) My parents were extremely focused on education. Definitely supported me when I did well, but did not accept mediocre grades or efforts (e.g., Bs were not rewarded and nothing less than that ever came into the house).
2) Once I committed to something (e.g., sports team, activity, committee), I was not allowed to quit.
3) I was VERY socialized since I was an only child. I was put in activities that required interaction and using my mind.
4) I was also VERY frequently required to stay at home and "learn to be by myself" because I was an only child. This was immensely helpful when I got older because I never felt like I couldnt' stand up on my own two feet or like I needed to have boyfriends around all the time like so many of my peers who put up with BS from the men just because they needed someone.
5) I was told "no" when it was approrpiate and not allowed to be a precocious child (which prevented me from becoming socially awkward).
6) Had to work part-time as soon as I was able to do so (at 16) to teach me responsibility.

All of this instilled confidence in my academic abilities and social intelligence, taught me about perserverence and how to be a reliable individual, and taught me to interact well with others and speak my mind.
posted by superfille at 6:00 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I almost forgot- I was also taught manners, understood the rules and boundaries, and knew my parents loved me and were always there for me. It also helps that my parents are confident, intelligent, socially adjusted people who have always worked hard and set a great example.
posted by superfille at 6:03 PM on October 19, 2011

A friend of mine told me that once he was about twelve or thirteen, his parents told him he was responsible for buying his own clothes. They would pay for them, but he had to go pick them out himself.

That's just a small thing, and somewhat in the distance given that your daughter is only two, but I think the general principle is pretty sound. Let her make her own decisions about things relevant to her own life, as early as possible.
posted by number9dream at 6:48 PM on October 19, 2011

My parents are both very different (and divorced). Both have their very human failings, but they both modeled really important things to me that at 25 I'm only just beginning to appreciate:

Dad: Very Hallmark-card type Dad. Always emailed me after I told him about a difficult situation with a "I know you can do it, you're a smart woman, you'll do the right thing, I love you and I'm here for you." etc etc. When I was younger it felt a bit twee, but then I realized how many of my friends have fathers that don't give a shit about them, and I thank my lucky stars that mine does.

Mom: She took me to a lot of adult-type functions in which I either had to entertain myself or learn to roll with grown ups (I'm an only child), and never really freaked out about me doing my own thing as long as I was responsible and checked in. She and my blue collar grandma were both very much feminists who believed in education and being self-sufficient as more important than necessarily following traditional gendered scripts. No one ever sat me down for a Women's Lib talk, but the idea that you have to be able to rely on yourself was always modeled to me by every woman in my family working since I can remember.

But the biggest thing:
I actually talked my parents into letting me drop out of school and unschool when I was 15. I then proceeded to travel all over the country by myself every fall. The only requirement was to stay in touch by cell phone so they didn't worry (too much) about me. I have very middle-class parents, and this was only about 10 years ago. I have no idea how in the hell I convinced them to do that. What middle-class parent would agree to something like that today? Maybe it helped that it was only the dawn of helicopter parents, something both of my parents disdain to this day. Yet somehow they agreed, and frankly, being trusted to take care of yourself as a teenager (but also knowing Mom is a quick phone call away) is a confidence booster without parallel.
posted by mostly vowels at 7:27 PM on October 19, 2011

You are getting a lot of super great, real reasoned, actually researched responses. I come to offer much less than that.

There are a lot of resources written by professionals, some of which are listed here, some may be suggested by a good pediatrician or teacher. My brother-in-law (one of the more confident people I know) is becoming a guru in training his son to be confident. The guy is always being presented with choices with guidance allowing him to make complicated multi-step reasoned decisions at the age of 5. I don't have much experience with that; I only have of experience of having extremely modest mid-western parents and being self reflective about my profound lack of confidence until I was in my mid 20s.

It seems like confidence doesn't exist for young children. I know I lacked confidence as a 6 year old, but it really didn't make a lick of difference until I was in middle school. Here are some things I think my otherwise really awesome parents could have done.

- make em learn at least one life long skill; skills never leave you, and they always come in handy in building self confidence. I had a lot of interests as a kid: cooking, music, language et cetera. Some actively discouraged (my mom didn't really like cooking and didn't feel like buying me 4 dollar/lb mushrooms so I could experiment with Ravioli) some received lip support, and some had allowed me to quit extremely easily.

- listen to them talk intelligently about the things they're interested in. I loved a lot of things, but my dad was really good at listening to me talk about biology and history given his interests. Guess what, they were only sometimes my best subjects but I always felt the best about biology and history.

- Give them projects they can handle. When I was 8 I built a key holder rack for my room in my spare time cause I wanted to hold some keys. I felt AWESOME about it, even though, in retrospect, it was a total piece of garbage. I wish I was encouraged to do this more. My friend's who did Eagle Scout projects ended up learning a lot of real life skills and poise years before I eventually did.

- Encourage them in sports they have potential to be good at. My mom for some reason thought years of little league baseball was a good idea when I was terrible at it. A couch mercifully suggested track in late middle school and I blossomed since I was no longer "that dorky uncoordinated kid," and instead a contributing team member. Similarly I felt really sorry for the kids funneled into track by virtue of being too out of shape for other sports... yeah there are no cuts so there is less competition, and it helps kids get some conditioning, but it takes an incredible resilience for a kid to keep his confidence through seasons of coming in last and being the heaviest guy on a team full of gaunt teens.

- I agree with withholding the generalized exceptional-ist praise ("you're special, you're the smartest kid in your class") but tell the kids beginning in older childhood that other kids think she/he's awesome and attractive and fun to be around. It was early fall 1997 the first and only time I heard either of my parents suggest girls would ever be attracted to me. This dearth of superficial praise helped me really buy into the belief most teens have that they are hideous greasy faced monsters. I know this self-consciousness happens to everyone, but truth is, most teenagers are actually freaking gorgeous and full of vitality and super fit and all that jazz, so when girls would have crushes on me later on in high school, I had no idea what would make them so weird as to have them be attracted to me, so I shunned those girls and stayed in with my dude friends and played video games. I know, I know, you don't want your kids to be superficial, but if my parents had been less worried about that I could've had the confidence to... you know... make out with girls... instead of giving them weird complexes by avoiding them when they payed attention to me... but y'know, whatever, GTA III was fun too...

- Model confidence. I learned a lot about being shy and doubtful from my parents. I learned a lot about being confident from my friends parents. Yeah, my best friend's dad had a terrrrrrible singing voice, but he owned it, he sang because he liked it, and he sang with a big grin on his face cause he knew it didn't affect how he felt about himself, he had a thousand other reasons to be confident.
posted by midmarch snowman at 7:32 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't confuse self-confidence with self-esteem. Self confidence comes from succeeding at something challenging, whether it's learning to tie your shoes or graduating from law school. What we call self-esteem these days comes from unconditional praise completely unrelated to performance. And people are starting to think that might be really really bad for you.

So to build confidence you need to let your kid be challenged. The challenges will be different at different ages; your two year old might get a confidence boost by climbing up a play structure by herself or getting the lid off a plastic jar. There are two things you can do as a parent in these situations that help with confidence: stand back and let them do it, even if they fail several times, and save your praise for when they succeed.

My self-confidence isn't stellar, and I have a mean case of imposter syndrome. Here is where I blame it on my parents. My folks never really made me do anything I didn't want to do, so I could always quit something if it felt too hard. For me "too hard" basically meant anything where success was not a certainty. I was a very bright kid, so I still had a lot of successes, but they were all pretty easy wins.

Because I wasn't really being challenged, I never learned how to hang in when something was really tough, how to feel good even when something might be going badly, how to fail gracefully and move on. I also never learned how it felt to have won something hard-fought. That tends to take the shine off of your successes and leave you feeling kind of hollow. That's where the imposter syndrome comes from for me, I think. I also still have a tendency to put myself in situations that are just slightly below my level, so that success is assured and challenges will be minimal. That makes me feel like I have failed utterly to live up to my potential.

It's not like I'm a total failure; in fact I'm quite successful, I just don't get the satisfaction I expect out of it. On the other hand, there have certainly been times when I have really gone for something, stretched well past what I thought I was able to do, and those victories have been utterly fantastic.

Anyhow, that is basically the central tennet of my parenting with my 8 year old. If she can do it herself, I encourage her to do it herself. If she needs help with something, I help her only to the point where she can pick up again. She also has a strong aversion to failure and doesn't particularly enjoy being challenged, so it can be really really hard. It's hard for me to know when the tears of frustration are just a normal step in the process and when she is really suffering and I should let up. I'm no Tiger mom, not by a long shot, but I'm also not some pushover dispensing effusive praise for minimal effort, either.
posted by looli at 8:06 PM on October 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

I teach young(and old) people from the age of zero and up. What I have found and have witnessed evidence of is this: allowing space for personal choice ( this includes choices within boundaries, of course) decision making and problem solving exponentially increases confidence levels. Also, space to reflect on said choices and decisions. I find that doing this creates a sense of autonomy that is basd on how they perceive the world and their place in it.

My parents did not do the above. They did, however, instill in me the notion that I could do WHATEVER I wanted with my life, that I could reach as high as I wanted and I would experience success. That's the main reason I have a job I love that works for my rhythm as a person. I am very grateful for that gift.

I don't have any kids but I suspect I would use a combination of the above.
posted by Hydrofiend at 8:31 PM on October 19, 2011

My kids developed confidence by trying, failing, and trying again. My son wasn't a great soccer player but by 13 he understood the game very well. So he told his coach that he'd like to be a ref, and the coach got on board. We encouraged both kids to try stuff, and didn't hover or interfere when it got hard or less fun. We told them they could handle most logistics and situations themselves.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:38 PM on October 19, 2011

I wish I had read this article about praise 20 odd years ago. The concept that praise for the result (what a beautiful picture!) isn't as encouraging as praise for the effort (you must have worked really hard on that picture) seems logical but never occurred to me.
posted by InkaLomax at 8:45 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

My son is about the same age as your daughter. He is very much an "observer"- he watches to see how to do something for a long time, then he does it and feels really good about himself. I notice a marked increase in self-confidence after every one of his personal successes. He often has a burst of trying new things, lots of self confidence, etc.

I am an observer too. I am the type of parent that sits back and watches, but I stifle my urge to interfere with my son's "process" as much as I can (provided that he isn't doing something dangerous). Sometimes he needs my help, and that's cool, I'll help, but for the most part, I encourage him to figure things out on his own. I view my job as a parent as more "guide" than "instructor," if that makes sense.

In my time observing, I also watch other parents. I kind of think that those (helicopter?) parents who shadow their kids around, aggressively direct their play, and generally never let them take little risks are really doing their kids a disservice. Those are the kids who ask for help at every turn and literally can not play without adult guidance (how do those parents get anything done in their homes?). Those are the kids that basically wilt as their parents take over a task or rip them down off the playground equipment while telling them that they "might get hurt." It's hard to watch sometimes- I think these parents mean well, but they tear down instead of building up.

Of course, every kid is different. My experience is with my own, fairly independent, kid. I am also one of those crunchy hippie AP-type parents and I really think that the AP style leads to more self-confident kids (at least in my biased opinion), regardless of the parental level of helicoptery-ness.
posted by LyndsayMW at 9:11 PM on October 19, 2011

Best answer: Wow, lots of good advice! I work at a Montessori school, and we instill independence (which leads to confidence, I think) by allowing children to do things for themselves, and making sure things are set up so they can. For instance, snack is available on a table at their height, and they are allowed to choose their own snack time, and expected to clean up after themselves. Water is in a small pitcher sized for their hands. Work and toys are on shelves that they can reach.

Now, a lot of this starts at around 3 years, but some things are certainly doable younger. She can put toys on a low shelf, for instance. Things may take longer, but it's important to let her try. Googling for "Montessori toddler work" or "Montessori practical life" may help give you ideas.
posted by booksherpa at 9:23 PM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I also became much more confident as an adult. So one thing is to realize that there is some amount of randomness involved.

But I was more confident than I realized. Sometimes I would do things I was uncomfortable with, and sometimes I wouldn’t. But I would do other things with no qualms that I had no idea that they would make other people uncomfortable. I think my point here is to pay little or no attention if she’s somewhat different. Let her be herself, as long as she’s responsible.

I have little experience with children, but something that might be appropriate for your daughter’s age would be letting her pick her own clothes to wear each day. With that and many other things, you could give her two or three options to choose from.

I don’t agree with this: “Tell the kids beginning in older childhood that other kids think she/he's awesome and attractive and fun to be around.” That nags at me for reasons I can’t fully articulate. But part of the reason is: It’s generally not a good idea to speak for other people. And it’s better to be less dependent on peer approval, or external sources in general.

Midmarch snowman said, “Encourage them in sports they have potential to be good at.” That has a point. But a better point might be to encourage them in activities in general that they are interested in. Kids should learn that it’s OK to be not good at something. I was never good at sports, but I enjoyed it anyway. I was also somewhat good at and interested in math and writing. But I had little outlet for these outside of school. And I didn’t even realize I was better than average at those until my mid-20s or so.

Do model confidence and adaptability yourselves. My dad was in the military and gone a fair amount of time. As a child, I could never see that this was a problem for my mom. A couple saying of hers were: “We’re not lost, we’re on an adventure” and “You can do just about anything, if you want to bad enough.”

Some other good stuff my parents did with us:
* Let us be involved in some biggish or family decisions, such as whether to get braces, whether to travel overseas by ship or plane, whether to move from apartment A to apartment B.
* Gave us an allowance. This was based on X times our age. At one point, we got a raise in the rate, but we had to justify it.
* Made us justify our opinions. We had friendly, informal debates at the dinner table.
* Helped with homework by guiding us to figure out the answers ourselves.
*Made us look up words in the dictionary if we asked what the word meant.
* Taught us age-appropriate household chores and had us do them regularly.
* Took us to grown-up places and trained us to behave appropriately.
* Read in general and talked about the news.
* Ingrained manners.
* Traveled.

Avoid comparing your daughter with others.

One thing I don’t understand is parents driving their kids to school. It seems like whether the kids walk, ride bikes or take the school bus, they are taking responsibility for getting themselves to school.

This is a ways off, but don’t buy her a car or a cell phone or pay for phone time. Those are the kinds of thing youngsters should take responsibility for, and that includes paying for them.

Also a ways off, encourage her to learn public speaking, a foreign language or both.
posted by maurreen at 11:48 PM on October 19, 2011

I posted a related question a while ago. Most of the responses there are geared to adults, but there's a lot of really great introspection there about acquiring confidence. Apparently good posture and carpentry are very helpful!

Things that I wish somebody had taught me as a child:
- Being bad at something is a natural part of the path towards being better at it, rather than being a sign of a lack of innate talent.
- If you have a problem to solve, break it into little steps and try to solve them one at a time.
- If you're not very good at something, break it into little steps and practice them one at a time.
- You have the ultimate responsibility for your own success; what are you going to do about it?

I also wish someone had taught me more about picking flattering and appropriate clothes.
posted by emilyw at 1:09 AM on October 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I trained as a teacher for early childhood education, there was a large emphasis placed on the language of self-esteem used around kids, and I spent years saying "Good job!" "Nice try!" "Great sharing!" and all of that. I have not been in a classroom with anything other than adults in a very, very long time now and I understand this approach is no longer in vogue, as apparently there was some fear we were raising a generation of children who didn't know how to fail. (Or possibly sociopaths.)

On reflection, that seems valid. However, I still think encouragement is critical in building confident short people. Obviously, you're going to want to be mindful of balancing that out and address failure, but I still think there's value in bolstering the kids who are not, in fact, in danger of becoming sociopaths.

Perhaps someone with more updated instructional theory will have more to offer.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:03 AM on October 20, 2011

my mother taught me the value of risk taking - through her support of my creativity and her own actions. she also taught me to accept the consequences of my choices without regret about taking the risk. to be intentional and fearless (or honor my fears as i moved forward).
posted by anya32 at 8:44 AM on October 20, 2011

Stress that failure is part of life, and learning to fail gracefully is important.

And/or just act outwardly confident, and provide a good set of role models.
posted by talldean at 3:26 PM on October 20, 2011

My parents let me make my own decisions (within limits of course) from a very young age.

This, for sure. From choosing how much dessert to eat as a kid right up through never having a curfew or rules about dating as a teenager. My parents showed that they trusted me, loved me, and respected me, but also had high expectations. Maybe I just wasn't the rebellious type, but I think part of me growing up confident and generally a "good kid" was that I knew they trusted me and didn't want to betray their trust.

My mother would always set me up for disappointment, not by implying that I was no good at something, but by acknowledging that the things I tried to achieve were difficult.

They also were confident themselves, and had good senses of humor, so I knew it was perfectly ok to try, fail, and joke about it later.
posted by one little who at 8:02 PM on October 20, 2011

Lots of great insight above.

I was given so much independence it bordered on neglect- while my the first child in our family was totally over parented. I am confident (and probably too independent), suffice it to say that my sister is not- its definitely a balance, beware of overcorrecting.
posted by abirdinthehand at 4:55 PM on October 21, 2011

« Older how to say 'i like you'   |   Suggestions for libido-enhancing books, films, etc... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.