Mommy’s note: As parents, it is hard for us to see our kids fail at something. We need to be mindful and remember when it is the best time for us to intervene. 

Via Psychology Today: “The exhausting cycle of constantly monitoring their work and performance…makes children feel less competent and confident.” – Elizabeth Kolbert

It has become a commonplace idea that failure is good for kids, and builds resilience. But when children fail over and over and don’t have the support to keep trying, all they learn is that they’re failures. Resilience comes not from failing, but from the experience of learning that you can pick yourself up, try again, and succeed. That requires at least some experience of success, and lots of emotional support.

So it’s true that we all learn from overcoming challenges, but we also learn best when we experience success, which motivates us to tackle more difficult challenges. Mastery begets mastery. Failure sets up a cycle of lack of confidence, giving up and more failure.

We’re also told that we as parents are over-protecting our children, so they don’t gain confidence from learning to handle things for themselves. This is anxiety-provoking for any parent, because the line between appropriate support and helicoptering is rarely clear. (Isn’t a helicopter parent just someone who hovers more than you do?) All parents want to protect their children — that’s our job! — but we also don’t want to stymie the development of self-confidence, resourcefulness and grit.

So are kids today really less confident than they used to be? I haven’t seen any convincing research to support that claim. But it certainly stands to reason that the more practice children have in managing themselves and their lives, and overcoming obstacles to meet their goals, the more confidence and competence they’ll develop. And I don’t think it’s news to any parent that our natural desire to protect our children and make sure that everything goes well for them can make us over-protective.

So how do we hit that sweet spot of appropriate support and protection on the one hand, and enough independence to foster confidence and competence on the other?

1. Stop controlling and start coaching.

Coaches help kids develop skills, but kids play the game. Your job as a parent is to support your child so she can flourish and develop. Doing things FOR her robs her of the opportunity to become competent. Doing things WITH her teaches her how and builds confidence. This means we have to manage our own anxiety and let go of our need to control.

2. Remember that perfection is not the goal.

Resist the temptation to “improve” on your child’s task, unless the outcome is vitally important. Constant intervention undermines a child’s confidence and prevents him from learning for himself.

3. Let him try to do it himself from the earliest age.

Rein in your own anxiety. That doesn’t mean abandoning him to it. Stand by, smiling, ready to be helpful in whatever way actually helps your child — BUT keep your mouth shut and your hands to yourself except to give appropriate encouragement, unless you REALLY need to help.

Clucking anxiously about how worried you are as he climbs that play structure may make you feel better, and it may impress the other parents on the playground with your attentiveness, but it won’t help your child. In fact, it limits him. Just ask if he is keeping himself safe, then stand by and spot him. Smile proudly. Say:

“Look at you! I knew you could do it!”

(And if he falls, you’re there to catch him. Which is, after all, what allowed him to try it.)

4. Help her build confidence by tackling manageable challenges.

Emotional development researchers call this “scaffolding,” which could be defined as the framework you give your child on which she builds. You demonstrate how to do something, or you use words to suggest a strategy, or you simply spot her. This assistance helps her to succeed when she tries something new, and small successes achieved with your help give her the confidence to try new things herself. Scaffolding also teaches children that help is always available if they need it. You want your kids to know that deep in their bones before they hit adolescence.

5. Don’t set him up for failure.

Offer structure to help him succeed. Should you step in when you see failure ahead, or “let him learn a lesson”? Always a hard call. Rescuing children can prevent them from learning important lessons. But research shows that children who see their parents stand by and let them fail experience that as not being loved. Instead of learning the lesson that they should have practiced that clarinet, or read the directions on that science kit, they learn the lesson that they are failures, that they cannot manage themselves, and that their parents did not care enough to help them not be failures or teach them to manage themselves.

But isn’t stepping in “rescuing them?”

That all depends on how it’s done. If you take over the science fair project and do half of it the night before it’s due, that’s worse than rescuing: not only does your son learn that you will bail him out if he goofs off, he learns that he is incompetent.

But if you help him each step of the way to organize his ideas and his work, BUT resist the impulse to improve on the project yourself, he completes the job, hugely proud, and having learned something about how to plan and execute a complex project.

6. Encourage, Encourage, Encourage. And teach self-encouragement.

All humans need encouragement. Encouraging your child not only keeps him feeling more positive and motivated, it also gives him an inner voice that will help him to encourage himself for the rest of his life. Give your child maxims to repeat as mantras when the going gets tough. “Practice makes progress!” and “If you don’t succeed, try, try again!” and “I think I can, I think I can!” are designed to help us manage our frustration. When your son goofs a piece on the piano and has to start over, or your daughter strikes out with the bases loaded, they need an automatic internal comforting voice to encourage and motivate them. Otherwise the harsh criticizing voice steps in, triggered by the disappointment.

7. Instead of evaluating, describe and empathize.

Praise evaluates the outcome of your child’s action: “Good job!” It doesn’t give the child much information about what was good about what he did, or why you think it was good, and it teaches the child to rely on external sources to evaluate him. You can refine your praise to make it serve your child better by giving him the power to evaluate for himself. Just describe what he did and empathize with how he must feel: “You just kept practicing and didn’t give up….You must feel so good that you finished that!”

8. Focus on effort, not results.

“I see you worked so hard on this.”

“How did you learn to do that?!”

Give positive feedback about specific things that she has control over, like hard work or perseverance, rather than things she feels she has no control over, like being smart. The point is never the product — you don’t want her resting on her laurels at the age of six, or sixteen. Your goal is for her to keep trying, practicing, improving, and for her to learn that when she works hard, she can accomplish her goals.

9. Model positive self-talk.

Whatever you model, your child will learn and will emulate. Positive self-talk has been shown to improve our ability to master difficult tasks, unlike the self-disparaging comments many of us so automatically make. If something negative about your child — or, equally important, about yourself — starts to come out of your mouth, bite your tongue. Most parents know better than to say “What an idiot!” to their child (and most of them are able to stop themselves), but a surprising number see nothing wrong with berating themselves that way in front of their kids. Just train yourself not to do it. (It certainly isn’t good for you, either. Would you let anyone else talk to you that way?)

10. Don’t be afraid of your child’s feelings.

When your child encounters frustration, remember that your empathy will be a critical factor in his overcoming it. Instead of automatically jumping in to remove the source of the frustration, give it a larger context by communicating your compassion that he has to encounter this circumstance:

“I’m sorry this is so hard…”

“It’s really disappointing when….”

“This isn’t how you hoped it would turn out…”

It’s okay for children to get frustrated and to be disappointed. Your child may cry and sulk all day, but your unconditional understanding will help her grieve. Once she’s done grieving, she’ll be ready to pull herself together to try again the next day, especially when you express your confidence in her. That’s how children develop resilience.

11. Don’t set your child up for extra frustration.

Parents are often told that frustration is good for kids, since the world will be full of frustrations. That’s a bit like saying that it’s a cold, cruel world so your child should learn to sleep without blankets.

Your child will naturally develop the ability to handle increasing amounts of frustration and anxiety as he attempts more difficult challenges. But those frustrations are inherent in growing up and are guaranteed aplenty in life. There is no benefit whatsoever to setting your child up for extra frustration or negative experience. In fact, he will see your doing so as evidence of your lack of caring, which is always translated in his mind as his lack of value, and which therefore undermines his confidence.

12. Affirm your child’s ability to impact the world.

Competence and feelings of mastery are about power and derive from a child’s experience of herself as having an effect on the world.

“If I stand on the stool, I can flip this light switch and light up the room!”

All children will experience reasonable limits to their power (“I can’t make the rain stop, and neither can Mommy”), but the more your child has opportunities to make a difference in the world, the more she will see herself as capable.

In the end, our job as parents is to work ourselves out of a job, and it starts when our children are very young. All kids eventually grow up and live their lives without us. How they live will depend partly on whether we’ve been able to rise above our own anxiety and our impulse to control our child. You know the old adage about giving our children roots and wings? Unconditional love is the roots. Confidence is the wings. Young people who have both live bigger lives.

-Copyright Sussex Publishers, LLC.- 

Notes from MOMmy:

I hope this article will answer some of the questions that you have about building confidence in your child.

Via Parenting: 10 Simple Ways to Make Kids Feel More Confident

We spend countless hours as parents trying to make sure our kids are behaving, eating their dinner, and doing their homework. But how often do we take the time to focus on building their self-confidence? Here are 10 simple ways to do just that.

“Let me help you,” I said to my son, as I bent over to tie his shoes for him…or the first time he tried pouring his own drink…or when my crawling, infant daughter struggled to reach a toy, even though it was within her reach.

I used to help my kids all the time before they even asked for any sort of assistance. And I’m not alone. I know many parents whose instinct is to “help” their children. But at what point is an outstretched hand holding them back rather than letting them move forward on their own?

When I analyzed my approach with my children, I worried that I was failing to lay the groundwork for them to be independent and capable adults. And I realized what I really needed to help them with was building their confidence. So I came up with these strategies to instill confidence in my young children that will hopefully yield confident, secure adults:

1. Never laugh at their ideas, no matter how outlandish they are.

Like adults, kids want to be taken seriously. When they get the sense they’re being mocked (or laughed at, to their face), their instinct is to get angry, shut down, and not share more ideas for fear of more of the same treatment. After all, kids naturally see the world through a different lens than we do. You might be surprised what you hear once you show your child that you’re listening and that you take their ideas seriously.

2. Put them in unfamiliar social situations.

My 6-year-old expressed a legitimate interest in football, so I invited him to come with me to a friend’s Super Bowl party. No other children were coming, and I made him aware of that. He hesitated for a moment, but then agreed to join me. At the party, it was clear he wasn’t completely comfortable and was unsure how to act, especially since he only knew me and the host. But after a while, he was talking about “Star Wars” and lounging on the couch like one of the guys. The only way to establish a level of comfort is to first experience discomfort.

3. Have them learn to play a musical instrument.

While I don’t believe in forcing your own personal interests or hobbies on your children, playing an instrument yields too many positive results for it to be ignored. Once they’ve reached an age where they’re dextrally and mentally capable, learning to play an instrument not only relieves stress (yes, kids have stress, too) but it can also boost self-esteem in a major way.

4. Include them in the kitchen.

Yes, most kids are far more interested in the eating rather than the preparing of foods, but you’ll be surprised by how much one experience can turn things around. One morning we asked our son to be the “assistant chef” when we were preparing blueberry pancakes. Many mornings later, he now often insists on being involved in the kitchen, and he’s always incredibly proud of the end product.

5. Celebrate their successes.

I’m not talking about giving them a gold star every time they eat a carrot. I’m not an “every kid gets a trophy” believer. But in my experience, children react favorably to receiving praise for going above and beyond—naturally, anyone does. However, it’s even more important to show children that extra effort will yield benefits in order to instill the idea within them that they’re capable of greatness and that hard work pays dividends.

6. Have them teach you something.

Very little empowers a child more than having them believe they know something you don’t. A beginner’s card trick, a scale on the piano, or anything that positions them as the subject matter expert will work. Encourage them to share their knowledge (without bragging) with you and others. Odds are they’ll be brimming with confidence with their head held high.

7. Enable their creativity.

I’ve found that most people don’t think they’re creative because they were never encouraged to be. I once overheard my wife reading to my son, and she stopped turning the pages and simply asked him, “What do you think should happen next?” His eyes lit up. Simple questions like this are what awaken a part of the brain that might otherwise sit dormant.

8. Show confidence in your own actions.

This one seems intuitive, but often gets overlooked. Whether we know it or not, we’re our child’s most pronounced role model. So, how can we expect our kids to have confidence when we’re the ones they look up to and we don’t even have it?

9. Make them talk about their problems.

If you have a 7-year-old who recently started throwing a fit every time you make eye contact with her, odds are it’s for a reason. The easy, instinctive thing to do is to punish her and be done with it. The more forward-thinking approach also includes sitting down afterward to talk and figuring out the exact reason for the anger (or what I like to call “The Danny Tanner Method,” you know, from “Full House”?). It lets them know you’ll actually listen to them, which provides a certain stability within a household that children need in order to feel secure.

10. Let them fail.

While success is pretty easy to deal with, learning to cope with failure is no easy task, especially when you’re not used to it. And in order to get used to it, you simply have to experience it, time and time again. It doesn’t come naturally to me, but I let my kids fail sometimes—while trying to build Legos or attempting to ride a bike without training wheels. It may anger them at first, but as Ann Landers said, “It’s not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.”