I was once asked by a journalist for a woman's magazine what were some of my favorite tips for building confidence in children. I explained that the list was very long, but I gave her three of my favorites...which I would enjoy sharing with you...
1) Give children responsibility. Don't do everything for them. Too much overprotection can create a sense of helplessness and worthlessness in our children. They are coddled to the point of incompetence! Think about it: when we do everything for our children, we are shielding them from the power and creativity that they all embody. Yes, shockingly, that is what we do when we do everything for them and expect nothing in return. I might add that to my knowledge there never was a time in history when children were given so little responsibility within the context of the family and community. No wonder they are insecure! When, instead, they are taught to act in a way that helps the world around them, their self-esteem grows and grows.
Parents can begin by giving children responsibility within the household and expecting them to become competent contributing individuals. Even a little child can help the family in so many ways. To wait on children constantly is to create a very insecure...(and bratty!)...child. As they become a meaningful part of the family, they can't help but feel better and better and better about themselves.
2) Make children aware that their lives make a difference, not only to your household, but also to the world around them. Telling children repeatedly how wonderful they are rarely makes them feel wonderful about themselves. Showing children how to act in a way that helps the world around them does make them feel wonderful about themselves. You can start that training very early. For example, a friend of mine volunteered for Meals on Wheels, which is an organization that provides meals for the elderly who are home-bound. Her three year-old daughters always accompanied her as she brought food to those in need. And, as little as she was, this three year-old child learned first hand how happy she can make people by doing something good. The elderly couldn't wait for her to arrive! My friend also was a perfect model for her child. There are many ways to help children understand they truly do make a difference. And when they do something that helps the world in their own way, they gain a sense of self-esteem and confidence that they may not have had before.
My own children learned about the self-esteem that comes from volunteering at an early age. I was the executive director of The Floating Hospital, a ship in the New York harbor that helped the poor. My daughter, Leslie, at the age of 10 and onward, could often be seen greeting the people as they came aboard, distributing food at lunch time, helping in the various programs, licking envelopes to send our requests for money to potential contributors, and so on. It is here that both my children learned that a lot of people in this world needed help. And they continue to help the world today, many years later, each in their own special way. Initially, I know they were fearful of reaching out, but as they kept learning the joy of helping others, it was easier for them to "do it anyway."
You can see why I believe that a valuable way to increase a child's self-confidence is to introduce them to a world of volunteering. It's an important way for everyone...young and old...to increase their sense of meaning and purpose in the world.
3) Teach your children the "I can handle it!" lesson. The repetition of the phrase, "No matter what happens, I can handle it!" stops the negative chatter in the mind and builds a sense of self. I believe so strongly in this affirmation and its value for children that I co-wrote a book for children entitled "I Can Handle It!" which is about building self-confidence in children. Here you will find 50 wonderful stories describing how children can handle different situations in their lives. It deals with emotions such as fear, embarrassment, sadness, and loss that often plague children's minds. A great confidence builder, indeed. Repetition of the positive affirmation, "Whatever happens, I can handle it!" has magical results indeed...for both young and old.
And here's a very special, very important "Don't" for the confidence and well-being of all parents...Don't blame yourself if your children are going through rough patches. We need to do our best, of course, but then let go of the outcome. We are not the only influence on our child's lives. Understand that there are so many things that enter in the child's "Circle of Being" that it is hard to know what factors affect the child's sense of self-genes, society, television, friends, siblings, and on and on and on.
The guilt-peddlers out there will tell you that everything that goes wrong is the parents' fault, but I don't believe that. I have seen children given the worst life have to offer and they grow up great! And I have seen children given the best, and they grow up horrible! There are so many factors that affect a child's self-confidence that to expect a parent to have such control over a child is totally unfair and unrealistic. You can tell, I have compassion for parents! Again, our task is to just do our best, according to what we think is best, and then let go of the outcome.
Our children have their own lessons to learn, each in their own way. We can support them, but we can't control them. We can only control our reactions to all that happens in their lives...and in our own lives as well. In that, lies our strength.