There is a kindergartner who comes into the office once or twice a week, just to give me a hug. He walks in with a huge smile on his face, arms outstretched, confident that he will be received with pleasure and appreciation (and he always is!!).
Not long ago during morning assembly, the gathering room was arranged differently than usual, with chairs set up for our Open House. One of our second graders, a shy and somewhat anxious person, came up to ask me where she should put her bag, as the normal 2nd grade place was not there. She didn’t know what to do, but knew how to solve her problem. She was confident that I would help her without making her feel badly about not knowing.
During that same assembly, one of our 6th graders stood before the entire elementary student body to describe a trip he will be taking this winter break to help children in El Salvador. He asked for donations of sports equipment and clothes to take with him. He spoke loudly and persuasively, fully expecting the respect and attention he received from the students.
How do we foster confidence in our children? How can we get them to believe in their own abilities to further their learning, problem solve, and interact positively? I think of confidence as similar to self-esteem: it is not something that parents or teachers can give to a child; it has to be developed through self-reflection, trial and error, failure and success. Confidence is one of the “attitudes” that are promoted by the IB/PYP and by Seneca Academy. Possessing confidence can lead to other positive attitudes and attributes such as independence, effective communication and risk-taking.
So what do we do to foster confidence? I think the most important thing we can do as adults is to ensure an environment that is “safe” from shame and ridicule. This will allow students to freely demonstrate curiosity and risk taking. Next, we need to facilitate developmentally appropriate opportunities for children to try new skills, experiences, interactions, and perspectives. They must be real experiences, where achievement is meaningful. Creating pretend situations where “success” is guaranteed is a ploy that most kids see right through. As positive reinforcement has been shown to be the most effective in shaping behavior, supporting even small successes during children’s attempts and minimizing focus on the mistakes (especially in younger children) is the most beneficial way to build confidence. As children get older, providing opportunities to consciously learn from mistakes in a non-judgmental way is also helpful.
Often times I think we as parents try to protect our children from failure or mistakes in an attempt to preserve their confidence. But if they don’t have experience “failing” or making mistakes, how will they build the confidence that they can overcome failure? How will they know that making mistakes is not “the end of the world?” I think it is by remedying our mistakes and overcoming failures that we build our own confidence as adults– which makes it so important to support and encourage our children through the same process.