| Family Reflections |

True Comfort

There are ways to nurture a child’s confidence



ost parents want their children to feel confident. They understand that a lack of confidence is a form of fear, something they don’t want their children to experience. Therefore, parents do a lot to ensure that their children possess the trait of confidence.

But when they undertake the task of building confidence in their children, they find that confidence is something they can’t actually give their children. The most they can do is “boost” confidence — nurture and encourage it.

The Confidence Curve

“My mother was extremely critical, and I grew up to be very insecure,” says one woman. “I didn’t believe in myself at all, and I always blamed her for that. But my sister didn’t react the same way. She was confident even as a toddler. I remember one time when she was just a little kid and Mom told her that her blouse and skirt didn’t match and therefore didn’t look good. My sister just stood up tall and said, ‘Well, I like it!’ Whenever Mom would say the same sort of thing to me, I’d be devastated.”

Sensitive souls can easily lose confidence in childhood as they’re subjected to harsh adult judgment and/or peer rejection. Some people’s confidence is easily derailed by comparisons. “I started learning cake decorating, but my sister is so much better at it than I am that I decided to give it up.” And some people have such harsh inner critics they never measure up to their very own standards: “I hate this dimple. It ruins my whole face.”

Those fortunate enough to be born with an inherently confident nature will be more resilient, weathering the storms of criticism, mistreatment, and failure. “Yeah, I was never good at piano, but I loved playing, so I’d spend hours practicing. My family would beg me to stop, claiming ‘the noise’ bothered them, but I didn’t care. I was having fun.”

Fortunately, confidence isn’t a straight line, as in you either have it or you don’t. We all have confidence in some areas and lack confidence in others. Moreover, as we gain competence, we tend to simultaneously gain more confidence. “It took me a long time to become a good cook but now I have a number of recipes that I can count on to please a crowd.”

The Confidence to Lack Confidence

While confidence is a wonderful feeling — strong, secure, and powerful in nature — we’ll all experience its opposite as well. Therefore, parents actually have two tasks when it comes to confidence: One is to provide opportunities for their children to build confidence (i.e., letting children learn and develop a wide variety of skills), and the other is to support them when they show a lack of confidence.

While the first task is familiar to most of us, the second one is less so.

Very young children are totally comfortable lacking confidence. They don’t expect themselves to know anything or be good at anything, and they lack the self-conscious tendency to compare themselves to others. This allows them to try to walk or to experiment with first words. If they were more like grown-ups, they would give up after a few falls or a few incomprehensible utterances!

Parents can help their older kids (and themselves!) retain this delightful comfort with incompetence and thus allow them to retain the “beginner’s mind” (an openness to learning, exploring, and experimenting), and a positive, warm, and accepting feeling toward themselves no matter what they’re good or not good at.

It all starts with welcoming and allowing a child’s insecurity. For example, when a child expresses insecurity regarding her appearance (“I’m so weird looking!”), a parent can welcome and accept her lack of confidence (“You sound like you don’t like something about your appearance”).

This won’t come naturally to most parents; there’s a strong tendency to urgently attempt to build confidence (“Why do you say that? You’re gorgeous!”). But remaining calm and unflustered in the face of insecurity — giving implicit permission for it to exist — gives children the confidence to be themselves. They can be flawed with confidence. They can try with confidence. They can fail with confidence. They can be imperfect with confidence!

And this confidence to be fully human provides a comfort and security that far exceeds all other forms of confidence.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 841)

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