In my profession, one of the most common complaints I hear from parents is, “My child is not confident.” When I analyse the case-history, what invariably comes out is that the child has not learnt how to be confident. One point we need to bear in mind here is that the child’s support network, to a large extent, determines how she is going to feel and fare in life. Therefore, one of the first things I try to find out from parents is how confident they are. I ask them what their first response to a challenge is — be it to work or life’s challenges.
Parents are the first teachers and the home is the first school for every child. Over-anxious and protective parents need to make this playground of learning fun and stimulating. All of us have learnt from our mistakes, especially how to walk and talk.
In my talks for parents, I usually ask them to take a look at their parenting styles — are they too controlling, permissive or democratic? Democratic is deemed the best, where they allow the child to try out new things and take on challenges. This will give them confidence.
To groom and prepare children to face challenges, both in childhood and later in life, it is essential to give them small responsibilities from a young age. Complaints that I frequently hear, such as about a teenager who doesn’t pack his school bag, baffle me. Whose fault is this really? When I advise the parents to stop over-pampering the child, the answer is normally, “But, he will be late for school.” Citing this reason, the child/teenager is allowed to do as he pleases. I’ve seen parents who do up their wards’ shoelaces even when the children are eight or nine years old! It is these very parents who complain of their child not being attentive or responsible.
Today’s society is highly competitive, so much so that the joy of learning new things is disappearing. A new hobby or sport should be adopted for the joy of learning, not to make the child a celebrity. Encouraging a child to try new things is more important than stressing that she should succeed in the activity. Placing undue importance on succeeding in everything a child attempts will only put the child under undue pressure. Consequently, she may not want to try due to the fear of failure. Applauding children for their interest and curiosity will provide them the confidence to master skills.
What we focus on, grows. Do parents, as caregivers, emphasise a child’s strength or goals? Most often what is highlighted is, “Don’t do this,” or “Don’t worry about the other person.” Unwittingly, the focus is on, “What we don’t want.” This might, then, become the basis of the child’s self-talk.
How the child communicates will provide a clue about his self-talk – whether it is positive or negative. I often hear children and teenagers saying, “I don’t want to lose; what if I don’t perform well?” In this case, gently guiding the child towards process and not just result/outcome is the key. Also, demonstrating that parental affection is not dependent on a child’s success alone is essential. I hear many youngsters saying, “I’m worried about letting down my parents.” In some cases, they’re worried about parental reaction if their results don’t measure up to expectations. A good question for parents and caregivers to ask themselves is, “How does my behaviour contribute to the self-confidence of my child? Are they hampered by my behaviour?”
Providing opportunities for problem-solving encourages creative and out-of-the-box thinking. When a child is given positive strokes for asking questions and thinking differently or innovatively, it gives her the motivation to solve challenges effectively, thereby improving her confidence.
What we do every day determines how we’ll face life, its goals and challenges. If we focus on providing the right atmosphere and support, the ripple effect will be seen on all aspects of the child’s personality.
So, every parent’s goal should be to empower children to achieve their dreams, not to fulfil parental dreams.
Dr Chaitanya Sridhar is a Sports & Performance Psychologist with a doctorate from UWA – Australia.