Ruth was one of my best friends in elementary school. She was not the most talented student, nor the most intelligent. She was not the best student in class. But she had great confidence. She had this special attitude of “I can do it”. Later, after graduation, she went on to work for a corporation. I followed her career, when she went up the corporate ladder, and finally landed a very prominent, central position at her company. I saw her take on projects that took major skills, I thought she didn’t have. She just attacked each project using this “can do” attitude, and she always found the right resources to either acquire the skills she needed, or found the right people to take on the assignments she could not perform herself. I was amazed at her achievements.
From observing Ruth and many other people around me in my career, I learned a very important lesson: one’s confidence determines one’s career. A person can be a genius. He can be most qualified for a job. If he doesn’t believe that he can do it, he might not even take on the assignment in the first place. If he does take it on, most likely he will not be as successful as he could.
Just a few weeks ago, I had a conversation with Tammy, another friend of mine. She is a very talented psychologist, very respected at her work place and by her superiors. She told me about a position that has become available at her office. I thought that it would be a fabulous opportunity for Tammy, but she said that she is not going to apply for this position, because she doesn’t have enough experience, she does not have the skills needed, and it will take at least another 5 years for her to be able to fulfill this position.
Whether Tammy was right or not in her assessment, I think that this incident proves my point: confidence is a deciding factor for how successful one will be.
So how do we make sure our child develops strong confidence in his ability? In my opinion, this is one of the major issues in parenting. All educators need to ponder this and make sure they support confidence.
Here are a few suggestions that can make a huge difference in your child’s confidence:
1. “You can do it”. Say it to your child often. Teach your child to say to himself, when he attempts to conquer a challenging assignment: “I can do it”.
It is very noticeable that when working on a Math problem, again, confidence is the deciding factor. A student who doubts his own ability to solve the problem, may not apply himself in trying to solve the problem. He will easily say “I can’t do it” or “it’s impossible to solve this”. A student with strong confidence will try until he finds the solution.
Help your child, by reminding him that he can do it. Teach him to say to himself, “I can do it!”.
2. Don’t criticize your child when he attempts an activity. Don’t correct him. It is so tempting to correct a child, when you see him doing something “wrong”. You watch your child coloring, or trying to write, at an early age. He is holding the pen in an awkward position, and your mind is screaming “You hold the pen like this, not like that!”. Exercise discipline – don’t do it!
Should you let your child hold the pen incorrectly? No, of course not! But let him do his research, his experimentation. Let him try different ways to hold the pen, and find out by himself what is most efficient. If you want, you can take your own pen, and your own paper, and do some writing right next to him. He will watch you, and see how you hold the pen. I am sure that he will try your method, and come to his own conclusion.
My neighbor Chris visited me with his 4 year old son, Nick. In order to keep Nick happy and busy, we gave him some crayons, pencils and paper, so that we could have our own conversation. As Nick was trying to write his name, holding the pencil in a slightly awkward position, writing some letters that had no resemblance to the letters in his name, his father jumped up, yanked the pencil out of his hand, wrote the name down in front of him, and said, “What happened to you! This is wrong, this is how you write your name!” Nick is a very serious child, who attempts everything to the best of his ability. As I looked at him, I noticed the expression on his face. It was very troubled. He laid the pencil down, and refused to try any more. What is the message Chris has given to his son? I think that the thought that went through Nick’s head was, “I am not good at this”. Ok, I give you 3 guesses: how good is Nick’s handwriting now, at age 8? – You guessed it! It is not good.
3. Praise, praise, praise. Take the opportunity to celebrate every achievement, big or small. Praise your child for a good effort to complete an assignment. Praise your child for learning a new skill. Praise your child when he shows interest. Praise your child when he shows drive. Praise your child for anything that you would like to encourage.
Praise has to be sincere, of course. Praise has to be accompanied by enthusiasm. It has to feel good.
Before my son, Eric, was 2 years old, we started taking piano lessons together. I have always wanted to learn to play the piano, but my parents did not make it available to me. So now I saw an opportunity. Our scheduled lessons started with Eric, and when Eric was done I got my lesson. The piano teacher used to praise me lavishly. She told me how talented I am. She told me that adults, when learning to play the piano, usually are much slower than I am, that I am learning so fast, that I have a natural ability. Well – I loved going to these lessons. I enjoyed the lessons. I was very enthusiastic about learning to play the piano. Obviously, if the praise worked so well for me, an adult, wouldn’t it work wonders for a child?
4. At the end of the day, when you tuck your child to bed, discuss the day’s events with your child. Ask the important question: Tell me about the good things that happened today. Make sure the last thoughts of your child, before he goes to sleep, are the good, positive experiences of the day. Make sure you praise him for something he did today, some achievement. End the day on a positive note. This will also insure that you haven’t forgotten to praise your child where praise is due.
5. Write down a few positive affirmations for your child. Good examples for affirmations are: “You are so smart, and getting smarter every day”. Or “You are learning more and more every day”. Affirmations have to be written in the present tense, in positive format (“I am strong and healthy”, instead of “I am not sick”). Think of your child’s challenges at the time, or if your child had a bad experience, write an affirmation that will negate the negative experience. (Remember – you write it in a positive format).
Repeat the affirmations to your child, 3 times each. 2 to 3 affirmations at a time are plenty. If your child cooperates, teach him to say the affirmations to himself. You can do this during the day, and at bed time. Early morning at the time your child wakes up is also a good time for affirmations. It is a good idea to read the affirmations into a recording device, and let your child listen to them at his convenience, or while you are driving, waiting in line, or just resting.
6. Your child learns about the world and about himself from you, and from the community that he is in. Teachers, classmates and friends can also easily affect your child’s confidence. It is a good idea to make sure, to the best of your ability, that your child is in a positive environment.
If your child is very young, make sure all others who take care of him are also aware and considerate of your child’s confidence. When you choose a day care facility for your child, or a baby sitter, make sure you choose a positive environment. If your child is older and goes to school, it is a good idea to meet your child’s teacher early in the school year, and make sure they are positive, gentle and respectful. You can specifically bring up the issue of confidence and ask them to support your child’s confidence. It is always good to choose a teacher for your child who is cooperative, a teacher who will work with you for the benefit of your child.
7. Make sure your child knows he can discuss with you any issue that is on his mind. This way, if something negative happens, you will be able to help your child cope with it in a positive way, instead of creating a painful memory that may affect your child for the rest of his life.