How to build your child’s confidence and develop a healthy self-image

You have many responsibilities as a parent. You need to keep your child safe and healthy, ensure they are warm, well fed and properly clothed. That they get a good education and learn good manners.

You also need to help them grow into a confident, good person. A child with a healthy self-image will be more willing to try their best and be curious and adventurous. They are unafraid of making mistakes and more robust in their personal relationships, finding it easier to make friends and communicate with adults.

Four things you can do as a parent to build your child’s confidence

But how can you instil self-esteem in your child, and help them to grow into a confident, well-rounded, adept person? Here are four tips to help you build your child’s confidence.

1) Help your child learn new things

At every stage of development there are things your child needs to master. From learning to walk and talk and holding a cup for the first time, to finally being able to ride a bike. As a parent it’s your job to praise their efforts in learning every new skill. Notice and reward them for trying, and encourage them to have another go when they fail.

How you encourage and respond to their early efforts to learn will inform their attitude to trying new things and their own ability to succeed. Let them know that they can try anything, and it’s okay not to get it right.

2) Let your child struggle

It’s very tempting, when you see your child struggling with something, to step in and do it for them or give them assistance. But try to resist the urge.

Part of learning – and building the confidence you CAN learn – is attempting something tough. And as a parent, stepping back and encouraging your child to try something difficult unconsciously says, ‘I believe you can do this.’ Stepping in and taking over, on the other hand, says, ‘I don’t think you can do this. You need me to help.’

Of course it’s fine to encourage them, and even to make suggestions of different things they can try, if you can see they are stuck and ready to give up, but don’t take over. Show your child that you believe they can do it alone, and allow them to build their resourcefulness in coming up with new ideas themselves.

3) Praise your child’s efforts, not results

It’s important to praise children – but it’s also important to praise them the right way. This means recognising and celebrating their efforts, rather than just the result. So, for example, if your child gets an A at school, instead of saying, ‘Congratulations, you are so clever!’ you might say, ‘Well done. You worked extremely hard and deserve that result.’

What’s the difference between the two compliments? The first praises something fixed (their ‘cleverness’) while the second praises their effort – something they have control over and can replicate again. What if they don’t get an A in future? With the first compliment, does this mean they are not clever?

It’s also important not to overpraise and give compliments that are not true. For example, if your child loses a sports game, don’t tell them they played well if they did not. They will know your praise is untrue, and it devalues any true compliments you later give. Instead, you can say something like, ‘I know you weren’t playing at your best today, but we all have off days. And the important thing is that you didn’t give up and were a good sport.”

A personalised letter from Santa is one way to let your child know that they have been a good person the whole year. The letter give you the opportunity to announce an upcoming surprise or gift you can give your child, and they’ll be delighted to receive news from Santa Claus, and cherish the letters because they come directly from the North Pole.

4) Be a good role model

And finally, it’s important to remember that we are always teaching our children, even when we don’t realise! Our children are observing everything we do, and how we live our own lives is a template we are unconsciously laying for our children.

So even if you say all the right things to your child, and teach them that effort and attitude is more important than luck or outcome, but you demonstrate otherwise in how YOU approach learning new tasks, your efforts will be in vain.

If you complain about having to do tasks around the house and berate yourself for your perceived flaws, your children will absorb that lesson and replicate it. If you tell yourself you are stupid, your children will hear and believe it – then believe it about themselves. So make sure that you don’t just teach your children the qualities you want them to have, ensure you live them yourself.