I was listening in on one of my daughter's classes where the children were asked to choose an animal that best describes them. Her response, “I am a lioness because I am fearless, strong, proud, and I like to lead.”
I smiled to myself, taking all the credit for raising such a self-assured, confident child. She was totally unfazed by the giggles in the Zoom room, and unbothered by the fact that she was new to the school and had not yet made any friends. She is confidently happy in her skin and shines her light brightly wherever she goes.
Children need confidence from as early as the baby stage. They learn new skills about how to survive as human beings, and parents must facilitate their growth by encouraging confidence. A child taking his/her first step must have the confidence that he/she can walk alone and not fall. As they grow older, new skills are acquired. Falling from a bike does not mean that they should stop trying to ride, but instead must be encouraged to get up and go again.
Fostering positive confidence in our children is as necessary as food and clothing, especially in this age of social media where baby albums are on display for the world to see. Kenya is my second child and so I have had some amount of practice at parenting. My older daughter was a very confident toddler; she had all my attention, and I was her constant cheerleader. As she got older, her level of confidence waned.
It was my fault completely — I stopped raining her with praise for her efforts and started focusing on what she could do better. I failed to notice that she was shrivelling under my critical gaze and became vulnerable to peer pressure at school and society's demands. I was, unknowingly, passing on my own insecurities about not being good enough. It was she who 'woke me up', with a reminder that she was not me, after I spent a good half-hour explaining to her how much I loved reading as a child. Her response, “Mommy, I am my own person and I do not like the books you read so stop buying them for me, I like sports and I would rather swim or play tennis than sit in the house and read”. I stopped. I took her to tennis (and she was very good at it). She made her school's swim and water polo teams, and she got her smile back. The lesson — we should allow our children to be, which does not mean failing to offer guidance, but consciously recognising that they are their own persons.
I am now much more confident at parenting my second daughter because of the lessons (some very hard ones) I learnt with the first. It is important that we model confidence in ourselves if we want to raise confident children. Allow them to see your fears or anxieties and show them how you overcome them. They should know that all is not perfect and making mistakes is human. The metaphor of the bicycle is a good lesson; when you fall, get back on it and enjoy the ride. Raising confident children does not take a lot of effort, it is simply conscious parenting.
Allow them to explore different things and take note of what they enjoy doing most. I look for cues like how excited they get to prepare for their activities. Kenya loves to dance and so she wakes up very early on Saturdays and checks the time — it is the only day I do not have to tell her to get ready. She looks forward to it and has developed a discipline for her rehearsals that assures me she is serious about it. I remember my attempt to take her to a 10:00 am party one Saturday and her simple response was, “Mommy, dancing is more important. I will go to the party after dancing finish”.
Encouraging children develops a sense of purpose and also builds confidence. Unlike passion or ambition which are both about self, purpose focuses on the needs of others and the wider world. Help them cultivate meaning in life by having conversations about the world and how they can use their passion to make the world a better place. My older daughter loves dancing and wants to open a dance studio for children who do not have access to training. Teaching them to be conscious of the world around them will encourage empathy and they will develop the confidence to do things that will make a difference in the world.
Raising children is no small feat and parents must create a better world for everyone by consciously raising happy, confident children.
Coleen Antoinette is a single mother of two girls, and a lover of culture and people. She is an Arts marketing specialist and educator. You may share your thoughts or own experiences with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.