How to Raise Confident Kids
Recently I witnessed a pleasant scene in a waiting room. A mother and toddler were making their way out, the little girl chattering about pushing the stroller and giving the task her best effort. When they had gone the receptionist said to me, “I love ‘em at that age—but in a couple years the parents will have ruined her!” I knew what she meant.
I had been a home visiting social worker. Sitting at the kitchen table I listened to complaints. As we know, people do not always treat one another well. They get angry and tearful. They forget why they are together and pull at each other for the love they need—rarely able to love as they hope to be loved. They are suspicious of each other’s behavior and motives, sometimes with good reason, since they betray trust. (They stay out all night without calling a mother or a mate. They promise to bring home money and instead spend it on beer. And when they do come home, they are insufferable. Or they sit watching soaps on TV, eating mac and cheese and taking no responsibility for food sources and choices or for physical health, just getting fat and unlovely.)
Bleak picture? Common situation? Into the midst of this a child is born—handsome, alert, and confident, until ruined with yelling and mean handling, made to feel a bother and a loser. The cycle begins again, the process by which a child loses confidence in himself and becomes difficult. By then his parents have split up and there is a new “daddy” in the house, one who does not value the kid as his first father might have done. Possibly the child lives part time in two homes with different ways, each home a criticism of the other parent even if these criticisms are not stated, which they often are. (“Your dad is a no good loser.” “Your mom is a fat slut.”)
It doesn’t take an extreme of mistreatment to make a kid question her worth. You can end up worried about yourself in a “typical” home where the parents use duress to control you (if they loved me they wouldn’t hurt me) or where they leave you too much on your own (if they loved me they wouldn’t let me hurt myself).
The kid comes to the conclusion that she is intrinsically, within herself worthless. From then on she will worry about herself and make every effort to hide her true self. She will construct a façade. She will yell and cry and act out and run with the fast crowd or sit home and gain weight within which to hide. All because she lacks confidence! There is no mistake we make, any of us, that does not stem from lack of confidence. With confidence we are calm, unlikely to react badly even when others are not calm, not much in need of reassurance, interested in other people, and pleasant to be around.
Ironically, the confident person gets the appreciation from others that he can manage well without, while the worried-about-self person gets rejection that intensifies the worry. The confident one creates friendliness and basks in friendliness. The worried one creates unfriendliness and suffers hostility.
It starts early. Babies and toddlers are often bright and endearing, naturally confident, like the little girl in the waiting room. Yet, by the time they are two or three they have been brought low by caretakers who cannot bear such exuberance because they themselves were robbed early of spirit. And what is spirit but our very selves!
It seems that parents today have a triple assignment. First, the simple loving most parents begin with, so easy when the child is an infant. Second, overcoming any lack of confidence in ourselves so we can keep it out of the way of guiding our children. And third, overcoming any bad behavior in the child by understanding how to restore confidence with love, acceptance, and guidance that neither forces not neglects the child. To such parents I take off my hat.
1) Simply love the child.
2) Keep your own self-worries out of the way.
3) When the child shows evidence of self-worry, guide, accept, and love.
For you and the child are both amazing beings!