Our earth is a big, giant school.
All of us are here to learn and grow. Growth takes place through experiences, including how we react to and learn from them. Confidence builds by increasing our competence in confronting, understanding, dealing with and learning from the experiences of life, advancing us in our giant school.
Everyone who comes to this world is prepared to participate in this school. Parents have the job of teaching their children how to navigate and work within this school. As your child becomes more competent in dealing with “lessons,” so ability, creativity, and confidence grow.
In recent generations, parents have become protective of children based on the idea that things are so difficult that children need to be protected from what they encounter. Many parents, observing that their children don’t have the same kinds of opportunities the parents had in life, feel a need to offer more guidance, make decisions for, and protect their children from the consequences that accrue as a result of children’s choices and actions.
Unfortunately, such actions deprive children of necessary learning, self-esteem, and confidence. Loving parents protect in the belief that this will make life better for their child when in reality it doesn’t.
Think of someone who is living independently while in a wheelchair for life. If that individual asks you for help, certainly you want to give it. But if you give help that hasn’t been requested, you run the risk of communicating to the person that you’re taking over because they are not as capable as you. What does this message do for that individual’s ability, creativity, and confidence? And if challenging things are done for them, how much will it destroy self-esteem?
Similarly, when we make decisions for our child, watch and guide their every move, choose their friends, and most importantly, not allow them the consequences of their own actions and choices, we compromise, instead of build, their confidence.
To build confidence, people need to encounter their world and the people in it, explore their abilities, and be challenged by different people and experiences. They need the experience of being knocked down, and of learning how to get back up again.
Accordingly, to help your child with confidence-building, consider taking these actions:
As early as possible, encourage your child to make choices
Green socks or blue? Go out in the rain with or without a jacket? Explode angrily, or learn how to work with anger? Responsible choices lead to freedom.
Allow your child to experience the consequences of their decisions and choices
Offer to help them learn from their experience, instead of shielding. Help them learn more about how the world works.
Encourage your child to self-assess
Hold your assessment in place of finding out from the child how she or he views the situation. If you see things differently, ask if your child would like to hear another point of view. If you don’t get a clear “yes” don’t offer it. If you do, teach your child what you know or have learned about such situations. To build your mutual knowledge and understanding, view and discuss movies, or do internet and library research together.
Encourage your child to implement this learning in making new decisions or actions
Jim Fay, one of the founders of the Love and Logic Institute, has a beautiful procedure for this. A former school principal, he says he was always thrilled when a child had a problem because he knew that child was about to learn! Here is my version of the steps he advises parents to follow:
- With a smile on your face, empathize with your child. “Oh, that’s too bad! I’m sad you’ve had such a setback,” for example.
- Ask, “What are you going to do about it?” Then, LISTEN. If the child has difficulty coming up with answers, then you can ask
- “Would you like to hear what some other kids have done about this?” Fay says children are more interested in the experiences and opinions of other children than of adults. He proceeds to tell about other possibilities, the good ones and the bad ones, because it gets kids thinking. When your child has eliminated the “not so good” options, she or he usually comes up with a solution. Ask the child to share the solution with you. Talk things over. Make sure their solution doesn’t hurt or inconvenience anyone. Fay also says if the solution involves another adult, he talks with that adult before the child takes action. This leads to the next step, in which we tell our child
- “Good luck! Let me know how it turns out!”
Be available to review the outcome of new decisions, remembering to allow your child to self-assess
Discuss the things that feel good to your child and those that don’t. If necessary, this decision-making step can be done again.
Just as when purchasing something on Amazon, help your child identify how satisfied she or he is with the process just completed
If something needs to be done differently but not right away, your child can set an intention to do things differently “next time.” This helps your child focus on what she or he wants to become rather than on what she or he wants to overcome, a focus that allows for more progress and sets a powerful life-long habit.
During each of the first nine years of a child’s life, there is a “theme” for this learning. Year seven is about love, year four is about personal power. (For a free annotated copy of these themes, go to). Knowing these themes allows you to assist your child’s confidence development even more powerfully.
Helping your child to understand and work with emotions as they arise also builds confidence. (Visit www.emotionalmasteryforlife.com for more information.)
Allowing children to make mistakes, experience their consequences, self-assess, and learn from the events and experiences of life combined with developing mastery over emotions, will help with confidence-building that will last their lifetime.
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Ilene Dillon, MSW, has dedicated her life to helping people resolve personal challenges once and for all, then design life to be what they want it to be. A Transformation Specialist, she has worked 50 years as a psychotherapist and 15 years as a coach. She is a global speaker, Amazon International Best-selling author (The Wellness Universe Guide to Complete Self-Care, Volumes 1 and 2), podcast guest, and plans to give her first TEDx speech (on Anger) later this year. Ilene is also the author of Emotions in Motion: Mastering Life’s Built-in Navigation System and End Manipulation: Stop Being Jerked Around by Toxic, Energy-draining People. With her little dog, Pi, Ilene lives and travels full-time throughout North America in her RV, writing, teaching, and speaking along the way.