Developing Confidence in Your Children

It escalated quickly: a Sunday afternoon in the toddler pool culminating in an angry moment that ended with me screaming at the lifeguard. I’m not one to randomly yell at a stranger, but this moment leapt out of me with the rectitude of a momma bear spirit.

I first felt something might go awry when we, as a family, carefully padded over the wet tiles to the kiddie pool. I noticed the pool area was busy, brimming with more than the usual number of rowdy kids splashing around.  As I approached to help my eager toddler step in, I noticed a large group of young teenagers lounging in the toddler pool. Every once in awhile they would start roughhousing with careless, robust abandon. All the while, unsteady tots learning to use their sea legs gently splashed about as their careful parents held them close. It was a peculiar situation, I thought. I had never seen older kids permitted to jump around aggressively in the toddler and infant pool before. The life guard watched and did nothing.

That flash of terror I felt when one of those rowdy teenagers threw one of her young comrades into the middle of the pool, almost landing on my two-and-a-half-year-old, hit me hard and quite suddenly.  Luckily, I managed to yank her out of the way in time, so her tiny body wasn’t crushed under the weight of the long, flailing limbs that came splashing down in front of me.  That terror instantly morphed  into anger – not directed towards the young, dumb teenager mind you – but towards the “grown up” who should have stopped it all from happening. Immediately, my eyes darted to the lifeguard who had stood there doing nothing.  To my bewilderment, he continued to silently watch the whole thing go down. In fact, after noting my look of exasperation due to his apparent indifference about the roughhousing, he actually gestured for me to calm down (“Oh NO, he didn’t!” hissed a girlfriend, as I later recounted the story). At that point I was indeed furious. It ended up being a yelling match between the lifeguard and my husband and I, as the offending teenagers sat agape in the pool watching the whole thing.

“Are you going to do anything to stop this!?”

“I am taking it all in!”

“How long are you planning on ‘taking it all in?’ Why aren’t you doing your job?!”

“What is your name? We are going to file a complaint!”

It was a moment my two-and-a-half-year-old watched quietly and with wide-eyed curiosity. She knew mummy and daddy were mad and I wanted her to see it.

I wanted my child to see her parents speak up and address something we felt was wrong. I wanted her to see us argue and raise our voices.  As she is developing into a little person of her own, I see my child slowly coming to understand simple, human interactions.  As the saying goes: “Children learn more from how you are than what you tell them to be.”

It was the first time my little girl witnessed such behaviour by her parents, and it was her first step in learning that it’s completely normal and acceptable to speak up if you’re unhappy with a situation; simply, plainly and boldly. I want this to be her “normal.”

As parents, both her father and I feel the greatest tool we can give our child is confidence. It will make a difference in everything she does in life. At times we struggle with our own behaviour (learned or not), to be parents that guide these little human beings in confidence-building.

So I made some promises to myself when it comes to raising this child – promises I believe will give her that all-important tool:

  1. I try to praise her when she finishes a puzzle or draws a picture (I tell her her artwork looks exactly like the fish she intended, for example). When she spills something, I try not to admonish her. This first one is challenging because I grew up in a generation that was constantly being admonished for spilled milk and other mishaps that simply happened by accident.  
  2. When she counts to 16 or recites the whole alphabet, I tell her she is smart. As parents, we try to tell her she is strong more than tell her she is beautiful. But I confess, I do end up telling her she’s beautiful because frankly I simply can’t help adoring her.
  3. When purchasing toys or backpacks, I invite her to pick the boy stuff with as much frequency as the princess stuff.
  4. I try to always listen to her chattering and patiently answer all the steady, never-ending stream of “whys.” I try to respond in a tone telling her that what she says matters. Admittedly, this can be a tough one after a tiring night of pieced-together sleep and dishes piled in the sink. If she tells me she has a tummy ache or is tired, I believe her. I try not to dismiss her words as the random ramblings of a toddler that doesn’t know any better.
  5. I encourage her to climb on monkey bars and, when her OCD dad isn’t around, I let her splash in mud puddles on rainy days. I want her to feel the beauty of nature’s sensations and enjoy the growing strength in her little body. I believe freedom from physical restrictions (within reason of course), is just as important to her self-image as her emotional well-being. It’s better to help your child have a foundation of confidence before she becomes an adult who has to learn how to be more confident; an obstacle many of us have yet to conquer.
  6. We should avoid the urge to rescue our child, according to blogger Alina Tugend, from Parents.com.  It’s one of the most natural impulses as a parent to swoop right in and “make it all better,” but controlling the future and how others treat your child is an exercise in futility. Kids need to know it’s okay to fail. This is all a part of developing resiliency in a child, and resiliency is what makes adults successful and happy.
  7. While having your child hear supportive words are important because, as they say, “The way you speak to your child becomes their inner voice one day,” it’s also important to refer to a child’s specific accomplishments. According to KidsHealth.org, “Self-confidence rises out of a sense of competence.” In other words, kids develop confidence not because parents tell them they’re great, but because of their achievements, big and small.
  8. And while we all want to believe we’ve produced superstars, perfection is not the goal. So stop yourself from being that parent; the swearing hockey parent behind the bench, or the stage parent at that high-pressure audition. We’ve heard about them, read about them, and we might have even grown up with some of them.  Aha! Parenting says “Constant intervention undermines a child’s confidence and prevents him from learning for himself.” Good advice!

In the end, letting your child know they’re simply wonderful just as they are can set them up for a lifetime of solid self-image and confidence.