Eight-year-old Saurav is at the playground with his mom, Radhika. He wants to play on the swing but another child is sitting on it and refusing to let other children have a turn.
"Mamma, tell that child to get off the swing," Saurav tells his mother.
"No, Saurav, why don't you go tell the child yourself. She looks like she is your age," his mother Radhika points out. She believes that Saurav is old enough to fight his own battles. Also, she wants him to develop the confidence to face such problems. But Saurav does not want to go on his own.
"Let's just go home, Mamma," he says, instead.
Radhika tries to change his mind but he does not budge. The mother worries about her son's lack of confidence. It may affect him later in life, she feels. But she does not know how she can help him become more self-confident and capable.
Why children lack confidence
In my practice, one of the most common complaints I hear from parents is, 'My child is not confident'. But when I talk in-depth with the parents, what invariably comes out is that the child has not learnt how to be confident. A crucial aspect that is often missed here is that the child's support network, to a large extent, determines how she is going to feel and fare in life. So, I always try to find out from parents how confident they are. I ask them what their first response to a challenge is - be it to work or life's challenges.
As parents, remember that you are the first teachers for your child. Your home is the first school. Over-anxious and protective parents need to make this playground of learning fun and stimulating. After all, it is through mistakes that we learn, especially how to walk and talk.
What is your parenting style?
What kind of parenting style do you follow at home? Are you too controlling, permissive or democratic? Democratic is deemed the best, for here, you allow the child to try out new things and take on challenges. This is vital to instil confidence in your child.
Let's look at other ways to make your child more confident:
Give them responsibilities: 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. Often, I hear parents complain about teenagers who do not pack their school bags. This baffles me. Whose fault is this really? When I advise 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. In fact, I've seen parents do up their wards' shoelaces even if the child is eight or nine years old! So, how will the child learn to be attentive or responsible?
The joy of learning: In our highly competitive society, the joy of learning new things is disappearing. So, make sure your child learns a new hobby or participates in a sport because she loves it. The aim is not to make your child a celebrity. Also, encouraging a child to try new things is more important than stressing that she should succeed in the activity. Placing undue importance on succeeding, 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.
Focus on strengths: What we focus on, grows. So, as a parent and caregivers, emphasise your child's strengths and goals. 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. 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.
Love and support: As parents, demonstrate that parental affection is not dependent on a child's success alone. I hear many youngsters saying, 'I'm worried about letting down my parents.
Your reaction: 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?'
Help them problem-solve: 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 and Performance Psychologist with a doctorate from UWA-Australia.