Confident Kids: how to help them increase their self-worth
As a midlands girl, I had a nasty shock when I moved to leafy Kent, in the south of England..
I thought nothing of it at first, but the moment I had kids, it hit me square in the face.
In Kent we have a grammar school system - a system that separates the most able children from the age of 11 and puts them into (largely) single-sex secondary schools.
On the face of it, it’s not too bad. Why wouldn’t you want your child to be surrounded by children of similar ability?
But I’d seen the lasting impact of the system on many of my friends and the ways it had hit their confidence - and it made me distinctly uneasy.
Because regardless of the politics (and believe me, grammar schools are entrenched in political opinion), confidence is a tricky beast when you are young – the effects of which can last a lifetime.
When young children are effectively given an official tick of approval or ‘reject’ badge at such a tender age, it not only has repercussions for how others see them, but how they see themselves.
My own husband is testament to that. He shone intellectually much later in life, but his opinion of his abilities was on the floor for decades after he flunked the 11+. Separated from his ‘clever’ friends and his only sibling, it took him a long time to realise he was just a late starter – but that affected his whole ethos to his learning for years.
And this is the point.
· All kids are different and progress at their own pace.
· All kids have their own minds, wants and desires.
· All kids learn their place in the world from the people around them.
A heathy sense of self-worth is the very foundation that confidence is built on. If you can give your children a head-start from a young age, you are potentially preventing them from ever having to see someone like me decades down the line, when they’re struggling to move out of their own way.
As a coach, I see the impact of parental input time and time again – even in things that at first seems totally unrelated, such as public speaking fear.
Now the last thing I want to do is induce parental guilt – we’ve all got enough of that. The fact is we make our choices and model our behaviour on what we know. Most of us will mimic the patterns of our own parents whether we want to or not.
(Ever caught yourself inadvertently trotting out the phrases your mum used to say? I regularly find myself warning, ‘It will end in tears and they won’t be mine..’ even though I hated that expression as a nipper!).
And we just don’t think it through because we’ve never really had to.
Put simply, we do the best we have with what we’ve got. And our actions virtually always come from a place of love – and that’s to be commended.
But, I’m in a unique position of knowing what holds my clients back when it comes to confidence and what builds them up. And I know that empowering your children to feel confident is an absolute gift – a gift they will thank you for, not least when they have kids of their own.
I’m often asked what my top tips are for helping children build a healthy sense of self-worth and whilst I could wax lyrical, there are three that I’d like to share that will make the make the biggest difference.
And the best bit? They’re pretty easy to implement – just a tweak here and there. (And here’s a reassuring pat on the back if you’re doing them already.)
Three top tips for building self-worth in kids.
1) Recognise that your ‘dreams’ for your kids are exactly that - your dreams.
We all want the best for our children, but our version of ‘the best’ may look very different to theirs.
Whether it’s educational achievement, sporting prowess, financial or professional attainment, appearance, sexuality or something else entirely, the loving plan we formulate for our kids may end up at odds with the evolving plan they have for themselves.
The transition into adulthood is about exploring and developing safely, and ultimately, being trusted to make your own decisions.
If you were on the receiving end of overwhelming parental expectation, you know how badly it can hit your self-worth. That lingering feeling that no matter what you do, you never quite measure up, can be emotionally draining.
When you put conditions on the approval or acceptance you offer your children (either consciously or subconsciously), it can cripple their future confidence as they learn they must do certain things or be a certain way to earn that love and acceptance from the people that matter most.
I see this pan out all the time in adulthood: people pleasing, perfectionism, self-sabotage, comparing.. All too often, they are born out of a basic struggle to live up to parental dreams. And because of that, they are deep rooted and difficult to shift without the right support.
The moral of the story? Kids are like a journey. You might desperately want to go to Australia but end up in Austria. Whilst they are not the same, both are beautiful and rewarding in their own ways when you just learn to embrace them for what they are.
2) Reward the process not the outcome.
There’s a fine line between the recognising your own child’s dreams, but providing the encouragement and support to help your child grow – especially if it means a bit of tough love. So where do you draw that line?
The truth is, it’s relatively simple.
You reward the process over the outcome.
Every. Single. Time.
Take, for example, my daughter. She recently sat the 11+ I mentioned above. She studied towards it for months and we’ve yet to learn whether or not she passed.
But rewarding my daughter for completing it was based on her efforts over the last year, rather than the actual result of her test. Her praise and reward was precisely because she tried, she took action and she did her best.
And her best will always be good enough. Because, quite frankly, what more can she do? Accepting that is one of the cornerstones of confidence.
Over the years I have seen so many parents promising trips and presents if their children passed exams or won contests. But what if they had an off day? What if they simply crumbled under the pressure? (I’m sure we’ve all been there.) Does that make them any less worthy or negate their effort of the hard work and preparation?
Your kids might not get the results they want or deserve every single time, and that’s just part of life and part of being human. Fact. But it’s hard for them to get what they want unless they appreciate the value of putting in the effort in the first place. And that is why it’s so important to reward the process – so they understand the value of their hard work.
And what if they don’t embrace the process? Who really lives with the long-term result of the that? You? Or them? The biggest lessons learned are often the hardest to swallow – but usually for the person they affect directly.
Whichever way you look at it, rewarding the journey over the destination is vital to building a confident, healthy and resilient mindset in your little people.
3) Show them that you love them, just for being who they are.
This sounds simple, but it’s a tricky concept given we want to guide our children and help them learn to be decent humans.
Before I went on the learning journey that led to The Confidence Craft, I was determined to instil a healthy sense of self-worth in my kids. I was adamant that they wouldn’t have to endure many of the confidence issues I had faced.
I regularly used to tell to my kids the gazillion reasons why I loved them. I wanted them to know how capable and wonderful they were, so I’d shower them in praise. ‘Mummy loves you because you are kind, funny, clever, try hard…’ etc was a favourite mantra of mine. And most of my mum friends did it too.
I hasten to add that I always felt this praise was deserved – there are numerous studies that show the negative impact of excessive praise, particularly the link between that and chronic people pleasing, which you can read here.
Now of course, showing your kids love, affection and giving due praise is so very important in raising children with healthy self-worth. This far trumps the opposite parental behaviour where too little affection or praise is given. So, if you’re showing your kids how much you value them, give yourself a pat on the back.
But as soon as I started working with real-life clients and saw the link between parental expectation and self-worth laid before me, the way I expressed my love for my kids altered.
Why? It’s certainly not because I don’t love all the things I mentioned above – of course I do!
But every time I listed out the reasons I loved them, I was subconsciously communicating that my affection for them isn’t unconditional - it’s earned.
I now show (and tell) them that they don’t have to do anything to earn my affection, I love them just for being them. Of course, I still mention the other stuff too, but I try to link it to concrete examples that reinforce positive behaviour. Eg. 'Mummy loves that you were kind to your friend today when she was sad."
By switching the focus, during the inevitable times they screw up, are unkind or just can’t be bothered, (they are only human after all), they know they haven’t failed me. Nothing changes. I will love and support them regardless.
It also keeps those all-important lines of communication open as it reduces their sense of shame or guilt. There’s no need to hide, we can have a frank discussion about their behaviour and find a way to move forwards together.
This is powerful when it comes to confidence.
We all feel more worthy and secure in we’re just accepted for who we are – warts and all. No pressure to be perfect. No pressure to conform. Just the freedom to be who we want to be and do what lights us up.
And whilst it’s important we instil key human values in our kids, secure and confident children will experience the benefits of those positive behaviours for themselves (not just because they feel compelled to exhibit them to please someone else).
And that is infinitely more motivating.
But understand this. if you’re loving your kids and accepting them for who they are, you’re already doing an amazing job of building their confidence. And you’ve set the tone for positive parenting for generations to come!
How do you feel? Did any of that resonate? Feel free to comment and let me know.
P.S. If self-worth is something you struggle with, we delve into this and so much in my ‘Confident!’ hybrid coaching program. Check it out here