Confidence is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child.
Carl Pickhardt, a psychologist and author of 15 parenting books, says a kid who lacks confidence will be reluctant to try new or challenging things because they’re scared of failing or disappointing others.
This can end up holding them back later in life and prevent them from having a successful career.
As a parent, it’s your job to encourage and support your child as they attempt to tackle difficult tasks. Here’s how:
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Natalie Walters contributed to a previous version of this article.
1. Appreciate effort no matter if they win or lose
When you’re growing up, the journey is more important than the destination.
So whether your child makes the winning goal for his team or accidentally kicks it out of bounds, applaud their effort, Pickhardt says. They should never feel embarrassed for trying.
"Over the long haul, consistently trying hard builds more confidence than intermittently doing well," he explains.
2. Encourage practice to build competence
Encourage your child to practice whatever it is they’re interested in — but do so without putting too much pressure on them.
Harmony Shu, a piano prodigy, told Ellen DeGeneres that she started practicing when she was just 3 years old.
"Practice invests effort in the confident expectation that improvement will follow," Pickhardt explains.
3. Let them figure out problems by themselves
If you do the hard work for your child then they’ll never develop the abilities or the confidence to figure out problems on their own.
"Parental help can prevent confidence derived from self-help and figuring out on the child’s own," Pickhardt explains.
In other words, better that your child gets a few B’s and C’s rather than straight A’s, so long as they are actually learning how to solve the problems and do the work.
4. Let them act their age
Don’t expect your child to act like an adult. "When a child feels that only performing as well as parents is good enough, that unrealistic standard may discourage effort," he says. "Striving to meet advanced age expectations can reduce confidence."
5. Encourage curiosity
Sometimes a child’s endless stream of questions can be tiresome, but it should be encouraged.
Paul Harris of Harvard University told The Guardian that asking questions is a helpful exercise for a child’s development because it means they realize that "there are things they don’t know … that there are invisible worlds of knowledge they have never visited."
When children start school, those from households that encouraged curious questions have an edge over the rest of their classmates because they’ve had practice taking in information from their parents, The Guardian reported, and that translates to taking in information from their teacher. In other words, they know how to learn better and faster.
6. Avoid creating short cuts or making exceptions for your child
Special treatment can communicate a lack of confidence, Pickhardt says. "Entitlement is no substitute for confidence."
7. Never criticize their performance
Nothing will discourage your child more than criticizing his or her efforts. Giving useful feedback and making suggestions is fine — but never tell them they’re doing a bad job.
If your kid is scared to fail because they worry you’ll be angry or disappointed, they’ll never try new things.
"More often than not, parental criticism reduces the child’s self-valuing and motivation," says Pickhardt.
8. Treat mistakes as building blocks for learning
"Learning from mistakes builds confidence," he says. But this only happens when you, as a parent, treat mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Don’t be over-protective of your child. Allow them to mess up every now and then, and help them understand how they can better approach the task next time.
Pickhardt says parents should see "uh-oh" moments as an opportunity to teach their kids not to fear failure.
9. Open the door to new challenges and experiences
Pickhardt says you, as a parent, have a responsibility to "increase life exposures and experiences so the child can develop confidence in coping with a larger world."
Exposing children to new things teaches them that no matter how scary and different something seems, they can conquer it.
10. Teach them what you know how to do
You are your child’s hero — at least until they’re a teenager.
Use that power to teach them what you know about how to think, act, and speak. Set a good example, and be a role model.
Pickhardt says watching you succeed will help your child be more confident that they can do the same.
11. Praise them when they deal with adversity
Life is not fair. It’s hard, and every child will have to learn that at some point.
When they do encounter hardships, Pickhardt says parents should point out how enduring these challenges will increase their resilience.
It’s important to remind your child that every road to success is filled with setbacks, he adds.
12. Be authoritative, but not too forceful or strict
When parents are too strict or demanding, the child’s confidence to self-direct can be reduced.
"Dependence on being told can keep the child from acting bold," he says.
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