What parent doesn’t want their kids to be confident? We all do, there’s no doubt about that. So how come that some kids grow up feeling and being confident while others don’t? Is it all nature, to the exclusion of nurture? I don’t believe it is.
Genetics – nature – undoubtedly plays a major role in a person’s ability to build confidence. Does that mean that parents have to stand by helplessly and just observe? Absolutely not. The environment in which a child grows up – nurture – has a say as well. Since parents are the major force in a developing child’s environment, there is quite a bit they can do to instill confidence in their kids.
Let’s first explore the term confidence. According to The Free Dictionary confidence denotes “a feeling of emotional security resulting from faith in oneself. Confidence is a firm belief in one's powers, abilities, or capacities” It quotes Eleanor Roosevelt as saying: "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face".
In essence then, confidence is a mental strength, that builds through experience. As much as genetics may account for the proclivity towards developing confidence, it is experience that calls it forth and strengthens it. When we meet people for the first time we can often gauge a person’s confidence; we sort of sense it exuding from their personality or become aware of their total lack of it. On the physical level confidence may manifest in a straight back, a bold stance, a controversial statement, etc. These outer appearances show “a firm belief in one’s powers, abilities, or capacities”.
Taking confidence one step up we come to the spiritual level. There it turns into faith. What exactly is faith? According to The Free Dictionary faith denotes a “strong or unshakable belief in something, esp without proof or evidence”. How interesting. Whereas confidence in the mental realm builds on experience, in other words on the evidence of past occurrences, faith in the spiritual realm is not dependent on evidence at all. It rests on an inner knowing.
Parents are the primary role models for their kids when it comes to confidence and faith. We’ll talk about faith and parenting in this space at some future time. Let’s focus now on how to foster confidence in your kids.
Kids get confidence from experience. At times they need to be in situations that are a bit scary in order to build inner strength. Parents may be so busy nurturing their children, that they lose sight of this requirement. When a parent senses that their child is scared, the knee-jerk response is to take over and to protect the child from possible harm. As parents we need to think twice in such situations. We need to assess the risk of potential harm involved and then decide: step in and take over in order to neutralize the scary situation, or allow the child to face their fear, while exuding confidence towards the child so they can borrow some of ours. This can play out in any type of daily-life situation, such as climbing a jungle gym, asking a teacher for some extra help, or driving on the freeway for the very first time. (You might enjoy watching this 3 mins. instructional video in which Dr Randall Hyde talks about fostering confidence in kids.)
When, in a given situation, we decide that the child needs to face their fears, it is paramount that we lend them our confidence. Letting them face their fear on their own is cruel and will backfire. They need us to give them confidence in order for them to build it themselves. If we cannot muster enough confidence, even though we know the child is perfectly capable of coping with the situation, it’s better to remove ourselves from their presence than for our anxiety to affect them. They will sense our ambiguity and become insecure.
I remember when our second son Jesse was small he used to love to climb the playground structures to the very top. He clearly needed to explore the climbing frames to the fullest and there was soft bark all around. I rationally knew he was capable of handling the climb, yet I felt very anxious seeing him so high up. It was then that I decided to inwardly say a quick prayer, affirming my faith that he was in God’s hands no matter what, and outwardly turning away from the scene and forcing my attention elsewhere. The only time he ever fell was from the lowest branch of a tree in our back yard, 3’ off the ground, after a climb that had taken him above roof top level. (I didn’t see this, but I know it is true for he later told me what the street looked like from up high …)
In order for a child to develop confidence it is crucial for them to practice facing little fears on the basis of the confidence the parent instills in them. If we are over-protective we may risk creating a need in the child at a later time to seek out exciting confrontations in order to gain confidence on their own, confrontations we might not have chosen for them at all.