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Are You Crushing Your Kid’s Self Confidence?

KIDS, MOTHERHOOD | 18 comments

I was recently on a super cool podcast called, “The Tao of Self Confidence” hosted by Sheena Yap Chan. And let me tell you, it was fun!

In the interest of full disclosure, we recorded it over Skype while I hide my bedroom, so there would be no kids asking for Yakult or diaper change or whatever they fancy at any given point of time. No fancy studio. Just me and my lap-top plonked on the tallboy.

If you like, you can listen to it here:

You can do it with Michelle Hon

After the lovely chat with Sheena, it got me thinking. If my self-confidence came mainly from my parents’ trust and support in me no matter what I do, am I currently doing the same for Lauren and Georgia?

Is stopping them from jumping from the sofa protecting them from hurting themselves or crushing their confidence before they can prove to themselves (and me) that they can land safely on the floor? Where do I strike a balance?

So I did some digging around (which really means google the shit out of the topic) and I’ve come to some conclusions.

We think too damn much these days!

Seriously, do you think my mum have researched to see whether she should yell at me to get off the couch? Hell no. Safety comes first. She probably didn’t want a hole in the sofa too, which also means more money wasted. It was all about practicality back in those days.

Did it cause my self-confidence to plummet? Not an ounce. I learnt to appreciate things and only jumped when she was not around. That’s another story for another time.

Be sincere in your compliments

We’ve heard (or read) enough of ‘Praise your child but don’t say these words, or you’ll ruin them forever!’. Those advice are confusing me.

I’d say, “Good job!” to Lauren when she finishes her homework without much prodding. And then thought, “Oh no. I can’t just say that, I have to praise the effort, not the results. By the time I can think of something constructive to say, the moment has passed. I would awkwardly say, “I like that you coloured within the lines” after she has packed up and has rewarded herself with a post homework treat in the form of Yakult.

These days, I choose to be genuine and sincere in my compliments.

I say things like, “Good on you for sharing your toys” or “I love to hear you sing” when I honestly feel that way. I want her to believe in my words – whatever comes naturally to me, not what an ‘expert’ thinks I should say.

I also give praise only where praise is due. They don’t get a compliment for doing their part such as cleaning up their own toys and taking their own dirty clothes to the washing machine.

But if you must, here are a list of phrases that build children’s self-confidence. Feel free to choose responses that fit your personal style. If you’re not the cheerleader type, stick to low-key encouragement. And always be sincere; children easily sense false encouragement. The exact tone of words isn’t as important as your intent and caring attitude.

+ Your skills are really improving; you’ve outdone yourself today!
+ That’s a great effort; don’t worry about that small mistake.
+ Keep at it; I know you’ll figure it out.
+ I’m so pleased when you do your chores without being reminded.
+ You solved the problem; how clever!
+ That is wonderful! Your confidence is really showing!
+ That effort deserves a high five!

And I call them cute and pretty if I really think so

I don’t know how it started but it seems that complimenting a child for their physical look is an absolute no-no these days. My daughters love playing dress-up and when they don a bow on their cute little heads, they like to come to me for a compliment. I see nothing wrong in telling my girls that they are pretty.

Don’t you appreciate it when people compliment you on your beauty? Since when it’s perfectly fine to label a grown man as cute but not to a child?

I get it. The argument for this is that if a child is constantly praised for her physical look, she may turn out to be a narcissist whose self-esteem is tied to her looks. But if her self-esteem and values are strong enough, which of course it’s up to us parents to instil those in them (that’s a post for another day), there shouldn’t be an issue to be appreciative of someone’s beauty.

Their values stay the same regardless of how they look like, what they wear and how much they weigh.

Also, some parents are too sensitive these days. While you may have read endless articles on what NOT to say to your child, you can’t expect others to know too. When someone asks why your child is fair or dark or don’t look like you, don’t take it personally.

It’s never right to comment on someone’s weight, whether it is to an adult or a child. What’s important in this scenario is not the comment itself. It is YOUR RESPONSE that matters. Your child is watching your every move. It is when you’re offended by those comments, that makes her wonder if there’s really something wrong with her.

Be the positive influence and a confidence role model

Now all those compliments won’t work if you’re always second guessing yourself. You must love yourself before you can teach your child to love him or herself.

Monkey sees, monkey do. Your child is watching you when you beat yourself up for missing out of a promotion. Pick yourself up and let your child knows that while you’re disappointed things didn’t go the way you wanted, you’re coming up with a plan for how you can increase the chances of getting a promotion next time.

Always celebrate your successes with your children. Talk about the skills and efforts needed for you to achieve those accomplishments. In the same conversation, you can remind your child of the skills he or she possesses and how they can be developed and used.

Be a damn parent

I’m totally guilty of this. I have trouble saying no and I cop out by giving excuses to my girls. For example, I’m limiting their access to screen time (mobile phones and tablets). Instead of saying “No, you can’t have it”, I hide the tablets and say I can’t find them. The lie is working pretty well at the moment and I don’t have to deal with whiny cries all day long. But.. each to their own.

Just remember that we are not their best friend. As parents, we set the rules and be consistent. Children need to know who is in charge and what to expect. Every household has different rules, be clear on what’s important in your family and enforce them consistently. As children get older, they may have more input on rules and responsibilities. Learning and following rules give children a sense of security and confidence.

I’m working on it.. I am.

Step back and let them figure it out

In other words, don’t be a ‘helicopter parent’. You know, the kind of overprotective parents who scoop in and solve their children’s problem. The kind who makes excuses for their children.

While it’s natural to want to prevent your child from getting hurt, or making mistakes, intervening before your child has a chance to fail also means you are denying him the opportunity to gain confidence in his own abilities.

What you’re doing is essentially telling your kids that you don’t think they can deal with things. So you have to do it for them. You are eroding your child’s confidence by discouraging him from trying new experiences.

Children learn by overcoming obstacles. They need the chance to take risks without having you remove it for them. Children will learn that setbacks are a normal part of life and can be managed. The road to competence involves a series of failures, and children must learn not to fear those bumps.

Love your child

I hear you say, “Duh! Of course I do. Why else am I reading this article?”. I like to end with the simplest thing but really, the most important thing you can give your child is love. And show them.

A child needs to feel accepted and loved, first and foremost by her family. Unconditional love builds a strong foundation for confidence. She needs to know that no matter how bad she screws up, you will always have her back.

Thoughts? How big an influence your parents had over your own self-confidence? What are you currently doing with your children that are similar or different from your parents?


I love my family, building successful ventures and helping others achieve their dream motherhood. This blog combines those three loves.

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