Building Confidence in Young Children

[Moore, T. 2002. Building Confidence in Young Children. In Children and Families, 16 (Spring): 12, Alexandria, VA: NHSA] Maybe you remember being four or five, and a grown-up looked over your shoulder while you were coloring a picture. "I like your drawing! It’s so pretty!" the grown-up said. You liked hearing that, though the feeling didn’t stay with you. It’s natural to try to bolster your children’s self-esteem with the same kind of praise you received as a child. But comments such as "What a pretty drawing" imply a value judgment. You’re actually saying, "It’s pretty to me." I also believe that frequent praise builds a dependency in children. They need to hear it again and again, and it means less and less to them each time. Confidence is created from within. All kids create their own self-confidence. We can encourage children in their journey by using these alternatives to praise: Focus on the process and the experience rather than the results. Rather than telling a child her painting is pretty, ask her to describe what she is painting, if she’d like to. With that question, you’re inviting the child to report on her process and experience. You might hear she played with a puppy, it licked some water from a bowl, and now she’s drawing a big tongue. This exchange helps the child understand that you’re interested in what happens to her. Teach songs that are repetitive. These are easier for children to learn. Try adding some simple creative movements to the songs. Consider whether a cute song-and-dance combo might be too complicated for your children to learn and enjoy. Success breeds success. If a child delights in a certain activity, make sure she gets a chance to pursue it often. Give good readers opportunities to read books, traffic signs, name tags, you name it. Invite children to talk about things they know a lot about. If a child loves to run, play a running game from time to time. Look for ways to reinforce each child’s talents and abilities. Give the child meaningful work to do. Tell the child when his work is helpful. The children might take turns doing important jobs in your classroom, such as wiping the table after snack time. When a child completes a task, tell her, "Thank you for helping." By asking children to do some of work, you communicate that we all need help from time to time. Accept notes, drawings, and other expressions of love without correcting them. Encourage a child’s scribbles and inventive spelling. When he gets older, he’ll learn standard spellings. Help children imagine themselves "big" through pretend play. Keep a variety of clothes in your dress-up area - firefighter and police officer hats, super-hero capes, doctors’ coats. Think beyond the obvious. When I was young, I thought of a man’s business suit as the uniform for an important person. Perhaps your children will enjoy wearing a man’s sports coat or a woman’s blazer. Remember that dress-up allows children to pretend to be their favorite adults and imagine themselves in powerful, significant roles someday. Have a conversation with a child you are disciplining. Give the child a chance to respond to what you say. The child may even offer a way to solve the problem. If one child hits another, help them find a way to discuss what has occurred. Give the hitter an opportunity to speak about his feelings or apologize. Your goal is not to "instill" confidence, but to support the child’s natural process of acquiring confidence. By following these guidelines, you’ll help kids develop the skill of knowing how to have a positive experience, even if they don’t get praised. © Thomas Moore, 2002 Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books "Where is Thumbkin?" and "Do You Know the Muffin Man?". He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series "Music, Movement and More". He has also produced ten recordings for children.