Build your Child's Confidence
    Build your Child's Confidence

    A confident child is the most amazing magnet, drawing friends, opportunities and success to himself with absolute ease. A confident child is often a popular child, sometimes the teacher’s pet, and often the centre of attention when the family gets together. On holiday it doesn’t take long before a new friend is made. Things just come so easily to him.

    In stark contrast, a child (or adult) who seems to lack the magical ingredient that draws friends, success and positive attention feels lonely, anxious or even fearful, constantly on edge but also hopeful that someone will ‘pick me!’. For a parent, it’s heart-wrenching when you realise that your child falls into the second group.

    Is confidence just for a fortunate few, or can it be nurtured? The literature indicates that confidence is not inherent, but the product of positive role models and concerted cultivation. Concerted cultivation means that a child’s sense of self is cultivated, just as you would take care of a rare plant or bird. Such a child is constantly reminded of her parents’ approval. Every little act is commented on in favourable terms: when she rolls over, everybody claps hands; when she finishes her food, she is praised for being a clever girl; when she puts a block in a container, mom and dad respond as though she has just discovered a cure for flu. Mom and dad’s positive remarks spur the child on to do more and reach even higher. Such a child finds it easy to try new things, and dares to take a risk or two secure in the knowledge that she has backing. And when things don’t go so well, it’s a minor incident in comparison to a warehouse full of evidence that she is OK.


    The strange thing is that moms and dads who nurture their child’s sense of self, and in so doing her confidence, also tend to be confident people. In other words, not only do they cultivate confidence in the child, they also show what confidence looks like by being a ‘confidence role model’.


    A confident mom and dad instil confidence in their child from a very young age by applauding every new skill and every new stage with great enthusiasm, while a child who lacks confidence probably heard ‘No!’ and ‘Don’t!’ 18 times to every one ‘Well done!’.


    Build your Child's Confidence

    Build your Child's Confidence

    Erik Erikson’s theory of development1 illustrates the effect of concerted cultivation from birth to young adulthood by comparing positive input to lack of positive input and appropriate role models. His model is a handy guide for moms and dads who want to know how to cultivate confidence at each stage of a child’s development.

    Confidence starts with trust during infancy, when the baby acquires an inner certainty that his mother will care for him and that she loves him. In time, he also learns that he can rely on himself when he starts saying ‘Me do’. When a child doesn’t learn trust in infancy, he automatically learns to distrust and defend. This breeds aggression rather than confidence.

    Before the age of three a child discovers independence when he learns to walk and to talk. During this time he discovers his own power – the power of words and of actions. He realises that he can make things happen, and his mom and dad’s response to this is a ‘make or break’ situation. If his parents belittle him – if they laugh when he falls down, taunt him for wetting his bed, shout when he drops something – he loses his sense of being a competent, autonomous being and starts feeling ashamed.

    Between the ages of three and six a child acquires motor skills, and practises being an adult during fantasy games like playing house, or being a fireman or a policeman. During this stage he usually learns to control himself and his behaviour: in other words, he learns to STOP. If his parents are overly strict and discourage his explorations, he loses the will to try. Failure in this stage is experienced not as the loss of parental love so much as the loss of self-esteem. Cultivating parents, on the other hand, encourage initiative and healthy risk taking, which is the third building block in the development of healthy confidence.

    Build your Child's Confidence

    During the next six or seven years a child learns the skills and values of his culture – at school, on the sports field, and while hanging out with friends. Children receive formal schooling during this stage, and in order to experience success in the classroom, on the sports field and when with friends, the need for self-discipline increases. If a child has learned to trust himself and his world during the earlier stages, he feels at one with this larger world and his place in it. If he has not, his feelings of inadequacy and mediocrity may be confirmed.

    At puberty, childhood draws to an end and the responsibilities of adulthood become a reality. The adolescent begins to question all that she has depended on through childhood, including her parents. She compares her image of herself to the way others see her. She compares her home to those of others. She is in the process of working out her identity. It is not an easy stage – not for the parents or for the child – but if the family glue has been strong in the earlier years, it will be flexible enough to create a silent vote of confidence that says ‘you can do it’. The opposite is a controlling family that treats a child as brainless and incompetent, which breeds anger, resentment and rebellion rather than confidence.

    Build your Child's Confidence

    Finally, the trusting and autonomous youth emerges. He has a firm sense of identity, and is able to take risks, to commit himself to relationships and to maintain those commitments. He has honed the magical magnet that draws friends, opportunities and success, which in turns feeds his confidence to dare more, reach higher, give more, and appreciate the richness of his life. If through the years that led up to this stage he did not manage to shake off distrust, shame, and a constant sense of failure, inadequacy and mediocrity, he experiences isolation rather than connectedness or intimacy.

    Trust and acceptance in childhood transform into confidence in adulthood. It is never too late to start putting the building blocks in place, but before you can foster confidence in another, it must be present in yourself.


    1. Erikson E. Childhood and Society. W.W. Norton and Company: London and New York.

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