I challenge you to stop and think for a moment. Is self-confidence an innate skill which comes delivered as a gift from your child’s biological heritage or is it developed and shaped by life experiences, interactions with significant people and ongoing practice? Our jobs as education specialists and parents would be so much easier if self-confidence were exclusively generated by biology, don’t you think?

Therefore, one of the main points of focus related to the education of pre-school children is, without a doubt, helping them become aware of their current capabilities, encouraging them to test unchartered territories and discover new dimensions of their potential. Whether we are talking about getting dressed independently, tidying up toys after playing or learning to tie shoelaces and ride bikes, children build their confidence in relation to our feedback.

A ‘well done’ heard once in a while complimented by over-criticism and hyper-protection does not quite do the trick! That is maybe because pre-school children live for showing adults that they CAN do so many things without support.

Expressing interest and constant curiosity towards what they do and how they manage to do it sets the foundation for the complex process of encouragement. With potential comes capability. Capability drives independence and fuels motivation. Motivation leads the way to wanting to do more, better, faster. This does not normally happen at once, but needs solid attempts. Some might result in success.

Others might end up in tears of disappointment because ‘I CAN’T!’ That is the moment when parents’ encouragement arrives like a breath of fresh air for the child who is suffocating under the weight of ‘mistakes and failures’. Knowing when to encourage, when to give a helping hand or when to offer a hug is the key to developing self-confidence and self-awareness. Here are some of the pieces of advice which turned out to be useful in my daily practice with children between 2 – 6 years of age:

  • Constant words of encouragement and time spent together doing things is worth more than a box of chocolates! If your child experiments and takes risks but has no cheering audience to see him/her right then and there, or hear the after-stories, next time she/he will not try so hard or, in worse cases, not try at all. Find the time to ask ‘How was your day?’ and I assure you some answers will blow your socks off!
  • When giving feedback, go for encouragement more than you go for praise. ‘Good job!’ can refer to a multitude of things, while ‘It’s so interesting how you managed to go up until the top of the ramp with your roller-skates!’ targets a specific action and is more personal.
  • Becoming upset, angry or visibly frustrated that your child just cannot manage to do something will not help any of you in terms of self-confidence. Try to put yourself in his/her shoes and remember how it was for you to face all the challenges of your childhood. Be kind and patient!
  • Discourage inappropriate behaviours but encourage your child to do better next time! Talking about how your child plans to do something when the next opportunity arrives makes him/her understand that you still trust that she/he can do better and motivates her/him to keep trying;
  • Saying things like ‘I’ll help you because you cannot do it by yourself!’, ‘You’re small, of course you can’t!’ or ‘your brother/sister can do it, why can’t you?’ are not music to your child’s ears. These statements set for false ‘general truths’ which can stay with your child a long time. You don’t know if they can or not! Or maybe you do, but even so a little bit of verbal censorship and tact never hurt anybody! Let them try! Children are full of surprises! Be there to help when asked but don’t do it for them! Acknowledge the success or progress!

All this having been said, I wish you wisdom to find the right time and place for encouragement, faith in you children’s abilities and patience for the twists and turns of your child’s self-confidence which are still to come!