Hideko Yoshida, the headmaster at Dream Window Kindergarten [where I taught in Japan], used to tell me that it is very important that children learn to do things jibunde (for themselves). She felt that parents too frequently interfere with their child’s activities, thus interrupting the child’s sense of direction and compromising his confidence.
Babies have their own internal sense of purpose. One of the biggest challenges of being a parent is to find a balance between nurturing and letting go, to guide your child to develop confidence through independence and to grow into his own true self. This was one of my main challenges as a parent. It is hard to know when to stop doing certain things for your child and give him the space to figure out how to do them for himself. Sometimes scheduling constraints or mounting frustration on my part tempted me into interrupting my children’s process when I could have backed away. Again, here is a place where awareness of yourself and your actions advances your baby’s development.
Confidence is a positive attitude toward, perception of, and belief in one’s abilities. As with all essential emotional skills and qualities, your child does not inherit confidence; rather, he learns it from his experiences and from the reactions of others. at learning starts in the womb with his mother’s wanting him and caring for him. After birth, when you and others respond to his needs, he develops a sense of power and autonomy, and confidence begins to take root.
A confident person is not afraid to try something because he is not afraid of failing. He knows that it is okay to make mistakes and that perfection is impossible. A confident person is comfortable with himself. He knows his strengths and weaknesses, and he does not mind if others know them, too. He meets challenges with optimism and persistence. He can make decisions on his own, and he can take care of himself.
Confidence broadens your child’s world and opportunities and gives him the foundation to learn, to succeed, and to participate in healthy relationships. Children who lack confidence feel unsure, look for approval, and have difficulty overcoming obstacles.
As a parent, you can encourage your baby’s confidence in many different ways. In her book Young Children’s Personal, Social, and Emotional Development, Marion Dowling, an early childhood education consultant, writes that confidence is linked to three factors that build on each other:
- Self-concept—Becoming aware of oneself
- Self-esteem—Developing a view of oneself (positive or negative)
- Self-knowledge—Getting to know one’s strengths and weaknesses
Your baby develops the first factor, self-concept, through the lens of his first relationships. If one or more few loving and significant people recognize your baby’s cues and respond to those cues in a way that is attuned to his needs, then his belief in himself strengthens, thus creating confidence in his world and then in himself. As he grows into toddlerhood and his world expands, additional people contribute to the composite picture of his self-concept.
The second factor, self-esteem, forms when your child places a value or judgment on his self-concept. Again, early experiences lay the foundation here. For instance, if the people closest to your baby accept and respect him, he is more likely to see himself as competent and worthwhile, and thus to place a positive value on his self-concept.
Only with outside influence does your baby possess the third factor, self-knowledge. If he has self-insight, it is limited. He looks to the adults around him to gain a sense of his strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, what you as a parent say about those strengths and weaknesses matters, as does the way you respond to your child’s successes and failures. As he grows, he becomes more aware of where he excels and where he may need help and support.
However, if he receives an incorrect image about himself in early childhood, he will probably carry it with him as truth until he, someone else, or an experience changes his point of view. For example, if a caregiver or an experience leads him to believe that he is not artistic or smart, then he may hold that assumption until he discovers it is not true.
Sometimes people confuse confidence with extroversion and lack of confidence with introversion. An outgoing child (an extrovert) may appear to be confident because he openly expresses and asserts himself, while a quiet child (an introvert) who prefers privacy and alone time may appear insecure. The truth could very well be the opposite.
The extroverted child may be overcompensating for a lack of confidence with his outgoing behavior, while the introverted child may be perfectly confident; he simply enjoys being alone and sees no need to draw attention to himself or to please others. By paying attention, you can distinguish between your child’s true level of confidence and your own interpretation of his behavior.
Other Ways to Help Your Child Develop His Confidence
- Provide a safe environment in which he has the freedom to move on his own without your intervention.
- Allow him to make choices whenever possible.
- Model confidence—your child learns by watching you.
- Offer positive encouragement and gratitude instead of blame and criticism.
- Show him that you do not expect perfection. Help him to accept his mistakes and to use them to move forward.
- Allow him to achieve goals on his own, and help him when he proactively asks for your help.
- Encourage him to try new things.
- Let go of an agenda, and accept him as he is.
- Avoid comparing him to others.
- Create small, cozy play areas so that he can feel big.
- Help him assess his accomplishments.
- Treat him with trust and respect.
You might need to show self-restraint when helping your baby to build confidence. It can be tough to watch him try over and over again to force in a puzzle piece that clearly does not fit, or to witness your toddler getting frustrated as he tries to dress himself. However, mistakes and struggles are inevitable bumps on the road to gaining confidence.
When you give your child the space to explore and to discover the world on his own without offering solutions to his challenges, he learns that he is capable, that he can persevere on his own, and that he can solve problems. In Japan, people often use the word ganbatte to offer encouragement for persistence. They believe that persistence leads to success.
As your child’s world expands, it is natural for him to have experiences that hurt his self-image, but they do not necessarily have to cause long-term damage to his confidence. If he learns to repair hurt with your love and support, these life experiences can be a source of strength and wisdom. When you build a loving and fear-free relationship with your child, he feels comfortable enough to show you his vulnerabilities. You have created a space where his confidence and independence can continue to grow and strengthen.