Is there anything more heartbreaking as a parent than seeing your child feeling left out, feeling insecure or not good enough, lacking in self-confidence and self-worth? What parent wouldn’t love to be able to pour confidence into their child and hand them self-esteem with their breakfast before they walk out the door? If we could, we would.
Confidence affects everything. It affects our child’s approach to all aspects of their lives – academics, sports and other extra-curricular activities, and of course their social interactions and friendships, feeling like they fit in and belong.
So, is there anything we can do as parents to build our child’s confidence?
First, it’s important to realize that true confidence is self-confidence meaning it’s a belief in oneself. It’s an internal thing. So simply giving a child endless praise is not going to do it. A child has to believe in themselves and that belief has to come from the inside out, not the outside in.
For the past 30 years, I have been teaching thousands of kids and teens as founder of Life Ki-do Martial Arts. At Life Ki-do, we believe in empowering kids with intrinsic motivation and true self-confidence that will be unshakeable in all aspects of their lives.
Here are some specific dos and don’ts you can practice at home:
- GIVE SPECIFIC PRAISE:
- DON’T just give general praise and blanket statements like “Good job” or “You’re the best.”
- DO give specific praise like, “Wow – I Iove how much variety you used in the color for this artwork. That’s really fun and really makes the drawing pop.” Your child will feel your sincerity and care and it will be so much more meaningful.
- AT LIFE KI-DO: Of course, we always give general positive encouragement to the class, but we also like to acknowledge specific skills a child is mastering like, “Awesome – I really see how much power and precision you put into that kick.”
- PRAISE INNER QUALITIES
- DON’T only praise outer achievements.
- DO also offer praise for inner qualities and be specific like an act of kindness or generosity or a time of courage. And ask your child how it felt for them so that they can get that inner validation.
- AT LIFE KI-DO: At our martial arts school, we do use a belt system because it’s important to have goals and acknowledge achievement. But we also encourage self-reflection so that our students can acknowledge their own growth and not focus solely on the outer achievement. Before handing a child a new belt we ask, “What do you feel most proud about? It can be your ninja skills, friendship skills, your focus or effort or maybe something else you learned.”
- ENCOURAGE A FIXED VS GROWTH MINDSET:
- DON’T praise general abilities or talents that impose a fixed mindset like “You’re so smart” or “You’re a star athlete.”
- DO focus on effort and persistence that will foster a growth mindset like, “Your hard work studying for your math test really paid off.” Or “Your piano skills have improved so much. Must be all the time you’ve spent practicing.”
- AT LIFE KI-DO: A cornerstone of what we teach at the dojo is resilience. It’s not just about perfecting a technique or skill. We always tell our students that it’s about doing your best always, consistently trying to improve, and most importantly to not give up.
- FOCUS ON WHAT THEY CAN CONTROL:
- DON’T focus on what your child can’t control like what other people think or say about them.
- DO empower them by focusing on what they can control like their response, being kind to themselves, or getting help.
- AT LIFE KI-DO: In partner drills, we encourage and help students to clearly express their needs if their partner is going too hard for them or not giving them enough challenge. This kind of clear communication and learning to work with others develops amazing confidence in standing up for yourself resulting in healthier friendships.
- FOCUS ON PERSONAL BEST:
- DON’T compare your child (or yourself) to others. It teaches them to do the same.
- DO focus on your child’s individual work and most importantly their progress and effort.
- AT LIFE KI-DO: Our main goal at Life Ki-do is to empower every student to be their personal best. We are always saying things like, “When we run, it doesn’t matter if you’re the fastest or the slowest, what matters is that you are doing your personal best and then you’ll get stronger as a person and in your running skills.” OR “If you do see someone doing something better than you, use it to inspire you rather than put yourself down.”
By following these steps, you’ll be empowering your child not just praising them. You’ll be focusing on progress and learning from mistakes rather than striving for perfection and focusing on unhealthy comparisons to others. Most importantly you’ll be helping your child build their confidence and self-worth from the inside out.
Jonathan Hewitt is founder of Life Ki-do Martial Arts and co-author of the book Life Ki-do Parenting: Tools to Raise Happy, Confident Kids from the Inside Out. Life Ki-do offers classes for ages 3-adult at their Westlake and South Austin locations. For more info, visit www.lifekido.com.