When a child topples over or bickers with a friend on the playground, a parent’s first instinct is often to intervene. While it may resolve the short-term issue, stepping in stunts their budding self-confidence in the long run.
It’s a thin line to walk. Help them too much and they won’t learn for themselves, but don’t help them enough and they might get themselves into actual trouble.
Child development experts Dr. Tovah Klein and Angela Hanscom shared their advice for navigating that balancing act and raising capable, confident kids.
Build a secure relationship with them
Dr. Tovah Klein, Director of the Barnard Center for Toddler Development and author of “How Toddlers Thrive,” said that unconditional parental support provides kids with a strong foundation to start from — and fall back on if need be. They feel emboldened to explore more freely because they know if something goes wrong, the parents will be there to help.
“They have the confidence to try new things because they feel like, ‘Well if it doesn’t go well, I’m still going to be okay,'” said Klein.
Don’t correct their mistakes
If a child is trying to fit a puzzle piece where you know it doesn’t belong, resist the urge to show them where it goes. Let them have that “aha moment” of figuring things out for themselves, even if they’re getting frustrated after a few failed attempts.
“What we see as mistakes they don’t see as mistakes,” said Klein. “For them, it’s part of learning… That’s where that sense of ‘I can do it’ comes from.”
Take them outside
Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist and author of “Balanced and Barefoot,” said that taking kids outside to play comes with a host of confidence-boosting benefits.
“Outdoor play will foster confidence because the more they take risks, [the more] they’re able to overcome them, which is best done outside because you’re allowed to jump off things and spin in circles and have more room to move,” she said. “In the meantime, you’re also strengthening your muscles and improving your balance. Those things are going to improve your confidence because you’re going to be stronger and more capable when you navigate your environment.”
Praise them — but not too much
Showering them in compliments like “You’re so smart” can make children doubt themselves when they can’t figure something out. Recognizing the hard work that enables their success helps them feel more capable to take on future challenges.
“If a child says ‘I built this tower!’ a parent can look and them and smile and say ‘You sure did!'” said Klein. “Then you’re following the child, you’re joining the child where they are rather than putting a value judgment on it.”
Let them take a tumble or fight over a toy. Kids need space to grow into themselves, especially when difficulties come up. When they work out problems for themselves, they feel more empowered to do so in the future.
“Stepping back and just observing, which is very hard for us to do, is actually the key,” said Hanscom.
“Confidence is this feeling of ‘I can do it,'” said Klein. “They need us to back off so that they can do it.”
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