10 easy (and sweet) ways that you can help children believe in themselves
“Children need inner strength from an early age,” says Eileen Keane Haly, Life and Parent Coach. “If children learn to believe in themselves, it really stands to them in later life.”
As the pioneer of Jumpstart Your Confidence, Eileen works with thousands of young people and teens every year through school-based workshops and one-to-one consultations. She’s now using that experience, as well as specialist training, in her work with eight to 12-year-olds. This is her advice to parents on raising confident children:
1. Praise your child
“Praise children when they achieve even the smallest thing,” Eileen advises. “Praising children helps them to believe they ‘can do it’. Criticism helps them to believe they ‘can’t do it’. It is much easier to notice the bad behaviour, but try to notice the good behaviour too – things like quietly reading a book, being nice to a sibling, working for a test, being kind to a family pet, etc.”
A good network of friends boosts a child’s confidence and Eileen believes that parents can play a role in helping to build relationships. Avoid the temptation to correct your child too much while friends are over though. “Help children to build strong friendships,” Eileen advises. “At play dates, keep corrections and reprimands until friends have gone home, where possible. Kids just want to fit in; play dates are essential for them to build stronger friendships. Try not to embarrass them in front of their friends. This can really hurt their self-esteem.”
3. Trust your child
The bond of trust is built up over time and, according to Eileen, boosts a child’s self-belief: “Show children you trust them. If you do not trust them, they have nothing to break. By trusting your child to do a certain job or play in a certain area (a safe area, of course), you help them to believe they are trustworthy. Trust them until they give you a reason not to. This will stand to you ten-fold during their teenage years.”
4. Set goals
“Set age-appropriate goals,” Eileen says. “Maybe that could be setting the table every day, making their bed, making their lunch, working a little harder for their spelling test. They might argue and they don't want to do something. But, there is something inside them that will feel stronger when they take on that task and complete it. Every time they achieve their goal, a child’s self-esteem grows. There is no harm in giving a child pocket money or extra time on their PlayStation, or a trip to the shop as a treat for achieving their goals.”
5. Activate motivation
Goal-setting and motivation help children to have confidence in their own abilities. Eileen advises: “Activate motivation by setting goals, start small and they will build from there. By activating motivation at an early age, your child will tend to be more motivated later on. Whether it's walking to school or working a bit harder on a test or practicing their piano, motivation is an essential tool for later on in life. Try to teach them every time they say, ‘I can’t’ to replace that with, ‘What do I have to do so that I can?’”
6. Set realistic boundaries
“Children thrive on boundaries,” Eileen notes. “They need them more than you can imagine. You need to be a parent before a friend. Boundaries relating to bedtime, manners, social media usage, respect etc., are the building blocks of your child’s future. Children feel more secure and stronger when they understand what is expected of them.”
7. Don’t make things perfect
“We all have a bit of a habit now, because things are so hectic, of trying to make everything perfect and just right,” Eileen notes. “That’s so unrealistic. Kids need to understand that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay not to get 100%. That’s life. If parents share their own failures and disappointments, it helps a child to understand that these things happen and that it’s normal and okay, and that disappointment and failure can be overcome.”
8. Make time for two-way communication
“Mealtime provides a good opportunity to encourage face-to-face communication,” Eileen says. “Make it a rule that everyone puts their phones and devices away. If mealtime is a time for speaking and communication, that becomes a really good habit in a child’s life. The earlier this starts, the better. Chat to your child at night time, or in the car or whenever suits you as a family. Two-way communication is hugely important.”
9. Encourage emotional intelligence
“Emotional intelligence is becoming an issue,” Eileen believes. “I find sometimes when I greet someone’s child, that they have their head in their phone and don’t respond. Parents need to avoid sending the message to their children that they don’t have to speak to adults. That’s not okay, because children aren’t learning about eye contact, which is a huge part of self-confidence and communication. They’re not learning about simple, everyday communication.
“When your own adult friends call over, don’t automatically send the kids off to their bedrooms, out of the way. It’s a very good idea to have five or ten minutes where they communicate with the adults. That really does stand to them later in life. They learn that they’re well able to talk to adults. That builds confidence without the kids even really noticing.”
10. Respect privacy
“It’s important to respect children’s privacy at an early stage,” Eileen advises. “A lot of the 11 to 12-years-olds I would work with say they wished their parents trusted them. Allow your children to have their privacy - they are supposed to have their little secrets. Try to remember when you were their age, did you tell your parents everything? Obviously if you feel your child is in trouble that is a different situation, you then may have to pry into social media, friendships etc.
“Our role as parents is to make our children independent of us. They need to be able to stand on their own two feet. They need to be able to make choices, stand up for themselves, and believe in themselves to move forward as confident, happy people.
“I recently had a client (a 19-year-old girl) who came to me because she was so tired of feeling bad about herself. Her self-esteem was very low. I asked her if she could change one thing about her parenting experience, what would it be? She said she wished her parents had taught her how to cook, how to set the fire, how to make her bed, how to live independently. She wished they had trusted her to make decisions, encouraged her to believe in herself. That’s really is something for all parents to think about.”
Eileen Keane Haly is a qualified Life and Parent Coach with a background in Child Psychology. She runs Jumpstart Your Confidence, where she works with more than 1,500 teenagers every year and has recently launched Kids Confidence Booster to coach kids from eight to 12 years-years-old to become strong, confident, happy teenagers and adults.