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A child’s confidence depends on hearing certain messages, and parents are in the best position to send them. Confident children know their own goodness, and that they are worthy of being loved and belonging with their friends and family. Parents communicate this self-worth to their children through verbal and nonverbal messages every day. There are as many ways to send these messages as there are children, but parents interested in increasing their child’s self-worth can use these messages as a starting point:
I delight in being your mother (father).
Spend one-on-one time with your child doing what they love to do, and let them lead, for no other reason but to enjoy being with them. Give your child lots of physical affection in a sincere, natural and age-appropriate way.
Your self-worth is not dependent on what you do, but on who you are.
Praise your child for character traits rather than talents or achievements. Point out what is genuinely good and likeable about who they are. When they misbehave, focus on the specific problem behavior instead of communicating that they are bad. Praise character traits, and discipline behavior.
You deserve to be treated well, and when you are not, you are strong.
Any time a child is hurt and it’s not his or her fault, they need three things: emotional validation, the right interpretation of what happened and to know they can do something about it. When a child is hurt, do not feel sorry for them, but work with them on practical ways they can stand up for themselves, such as using their words to stand up to a bully. As long as a child knows they deserve to be treated with respect and kindness, their self-worth will not be affected when someone is mean to them.
Your feelings are worth being known.
A child who is allowed to be their true self will grow in self-confidence. Always encourage your child to show how they are really feeling. When a child is upset, they can work through it if their feelings are validated. So, be a listener rather than a teacher. Try to see things from their perspective, and then let them know that you see how they are feeling.
You can use your strength to meet challenges.
Let kids take age-appropriate risks to do what they’re excited about, even if they might get hurt. If you don’t, what they might hear is that you don’t think they are strong enough to do it. Teach your child that they are capable of making their own decisions. Giving them simple choices when they are young teaches them to be a confident decision maker later on.
Chad Kritzberger, M.D., is a pediatrician in Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine in Holmen.